Operation Vac

The Story of Operation Vac
Dewi Harjanto; Irvine, CA
First place, Grade 9-12 

NEW YORK -- The advent of industrialization also signified the advent of industrialized waste. For centuries now, man has dumped waste into the rivers, lakes, and oceans, with little to no consideration to the ramifications of his actions. By 2005, years of accumulated water pollution had led to the corruption of the global drinking water supply and the destruction of the marine and freshwater habitats. Something had to be done. To combat the quickly growing problem, engineers in conjunction with environmental experts in the international scientific community developed a practical and cost-effective method for cleaning up the oceans: vacuuming the waters of offending toxins and solid waste with boat engines. In 2010, with fossil fuel-powered engines phased out after a painful five-year process, engineers introduced engines that not only were clean, but actually cleaned on their own in a global effort spearheaded by the United Nations. The effort was dubbed Operation Vac. The modified boat engines, found below water level under the vessels, cycle water through a self-contained propulsion system. The cycled water passes through a series of filters that eliminate targeted contaminants, including asbestos, lead, mercury, and plastics. These filters are not traditional sieves but extremely sensitive plates developed from manufactured polymers that are designed to attract very specific particles and materials, drawing anything from a plastic wrapper to a tiny atom of mercury. These plates accumulate and then store pollutants in large quantities (usually where old models of ships had their fuel tanks) that are dumped off at specifically designated plants that chemically reconstitute the toxins into safer materials. Some early observers suggested that Operation Vac would only be effective in high traffic areas, and that the pollution that had accumulated in the deep ocean would not be vacuumed out. These concerns were very quickly put to rest. Scientists dismissed the threat of deep ocean pollution by pointing out that turnover is a very slow process, taking about 1000 years for water to fully cycle from the top of the ocean to the bottom. Pollutants are also generally not particularly dense and tend to stay near the surface. The Operation’s engineers indicated that high traffic was not necessary for clean waters. The engines are so effective that just one small boat can clean up most common pollutants within a one-mile radius. Areas that experience traffic under one boat a month are considered so remote that pollution should not even be an issue. Consequently, water today is cleaner than it has ever been before. This December, 10 years after the initial experimentation of the boat engines in the Atlantic Ocean in 2010, the United Nations is expected to comment on the advances in global awareness of green issues with a focus on the success of Operation Vac, a program that the U.N. initiated under the Paris Agreements. Negotiating international pacts to deal with threats of global warming and air pollution are assumedly next on the U.N.’s environmental agenda.