WasteShark, which was developed by company RanMarine Technology, is the world’s first robot designed to collect plastics and biowaste from water environments.
The team behind this unique technology with zero greenhouse emissions includes entrepreneurs, technologists and business developers that aim to capture marine litter from coastal areas.
WasteShark, created in 2016 in Netherlands with EU support, is suitable for ports, harbours, canals, marinas and other coastal waters.
Weighing 45 kg (99 lbs) and measuring just 161 cm by 114 cm (5,2x3,7 ft), it has an autonomy of 10 hours. Inspired by the biggest fish on Planet Earth, the Whale Shark, it enables the removal of 500 kg of floating waste per day.
The plastics and debris collected are easily disposable through a removable basket. WasteShark models include manual operation with remote handheld control and an onboard camera. On the other hand, the autonomous model has mission planning ability and is equipped with LIDAR technology that enables the drone to avoid obstacles.
Through geofencing, drones are programmed to clean a particular area. Aside from that, WasteShark allows real time access to water quality data by port authorities owing to the presence of sensors that measure pH, temperature, conductivity, DO.ORP, depth and turbidity. Its power comes from solar panels and is stored in batteries. Once it is full, an algorithm triggers WasteShark to deliver the trash at a collection point to be emptied and recharge the batteries. Other interesting characteristic about these drones is that they can work collectively. When one drone gets quickly filled up, they can make assumptions about locations with more waste accumulated. The data collected can be used to predict phenomena such as algae toxic blooms. WasteShark was firstly implemented in the largest port of Europe, located in Rotterdam, after a pilot had showed promising results. Up to the moment, it already has users and potential customers in the United Kingdom, Dubai, United States of America, Africa and India.
But, why do we need WasteShark?
It is essential to remember the main causes and consequences of plastics and biowaste accumulation in aquatic environments. Hence, it will be easier to understand the crucial role that WasteShark might play to fight water pollution in coastal areas. Anthropogenic plastic pollution is a major problem worldwide as plastics accumulate at an alarming rate, particularly in marine environments. Sea-based activities, such as fishing, and land-based plastics are pointed out as the main sources for marine litter. In fact, it is estimated that every year between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean from land-based water bodies. In addition, plastics and floatable marine litter increase rafting opportunities as it is possible to find organisms attached to it. Moreover, some of these can be non-native or even invasive species that cause disequilibrium in coastal ecosystems. Another concern associated with plastics in marine environments is the formation of microplastics (MP). Due to their small size, MP can be ingested and cause the death of many marine organisms. It is hypothesised that microplastics also transfer hazardous chemicals to aquatic ecosystems, thus causing toxic effects. Because their degradation rate is low, MP can accumulate and act as a vector for contamination by Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxic (PBT) chemicals, such as heavy metals.
Consequently, the accumulation of plastic and microplastics, trigger water contamination, affecting not only ecosystems, but also human health and economy. Along with plastics, biomass also tends to accumulate in coastal areas, leading to the development of dead zones. In fact, eutrophication is caused by a nutrient enrichment, such as nitrogen and phosphorous, leading to an excessive algae growth. This phenomenon causes the reduction of light levels, consequently destroying habitats and marine life.
Furthermore, once algae die, they are degraded by bacteria that consume oxygen available in water, creating a state of hypoxia or anoxia. In these conditions, animals start to suffocate and eventually die. It is estimated that EU spends between 259 and 695 million euros every year to tackle marine litter. In addition, one of the United Nations Development Goals is the prevention and reduction of water pollution by 2030. Therefore, WasteShark is revolutionary as it enables the removal of a great amount of plastics, biomass and harmful chemicals, representing a step closer to get our oceans healthier. Its sustainable and innovative design, as well as its robustness and price, promise to tackle plastic and pollution crisis at source.
Casper is the editor-in-chief at Water-Pollution.org.uk, an outlet intended to raise awareness of ocean and plastic pollution on our planet. When he isn’t researching water pollution and collecting data in the far corners of the world, he lives in New York with his family.