What is polluting our oceans? | 5-Minute Science You Never Knew with Yann Blake

Summary Transcript

Where does ocean pollution come from?

At least 44% comes from waterways such as rivers, the rest from industry, households and shipping.

In the latest episode of the series, 5-inute Science You Never Knew, Yann Blake of Trinity College Dublin explains how the project he is working on, GlanNet, seeks to reduce waste from one of the biggest inland sources, storm pipes.

Find out more at:

Yann Blake’s research https://www.researchgate.net/profile/...

Glan Net project https://www.researchgate.net/publicat...

MARPOL convention http://www.imo.org/en/About/Conventio...

This series was produced with our partner Pint of Science! Find out more: www.pintofscience.com


Hi everyone! Today we´re going to talk about waste in the oceans. We are honoured to have specialist Yann Blake.

Welcome Yann. What have you got for us?



Well, in order to understand the problem of ocean pollution, we need to look at where it comes from and why it continues to pour into our seas.

At least 44% enters the oceans from waterways such as rivers. So, to prevent ocean pollution, rivers are the areas we must target. But what about the remaining 50 to 60%? Well, contrary to popular opinion, marine activities like shipping are far from being the biggest polluters. Thanks to an international convention called MARPOL, which sets the rules for pollution from ships, they account for just 12%.

MARPOL works very well on users of the seas, but similar rules would be very difficult to implement on land, which is why shore-based pollution from industry and households is so high and makes up the rest of the ocean pollution.


So, what about your research Yann? What are you working on?


We found that storm pipes are a major source of river pollution, which then discharges into the oceans. My research project – at the University of Trinity College, Dublin – focuses on a smart device that filters, collects and stores pollution coming out of these storm pipes that discharge rainwater or domestic water into rivers.

We’re working on a rigid net device called GlanNet. It’s used pretty much like public dustbins, in the sense that they are emptied by agents. The smart features include some cutting-edge sensors that continuously calculate the quantity of pollution collected. Once it reaches a certain level, the agents get a notification on a connected device.

People pollute because they don’t want to spend a lot of money on waste disposal, so we need to come up with devices that are affordable enough for both local authorities and companies.

Our role, as researchers and engineers, is to investigate the cheapest solutions that provide the greatest efficiency. We call this balance: value engineering.


Has there been a lot of research conducted into tackling pollution?


Totally. It’s incredible, the great ideas people have come up with. The French Tara oceanic research expedition, for example, has conducted amazing studies on the relationship between plankton behaviour and pollution. In terms of waste removal, the Seabin is a very promising device. It sits near the top of the water where it sucks and filters everything around it - fuel, detergents, plastics, wood, etc. There are 860 Seabins currently in place which have collected one tonne of litter.


Before we finish, is there one last message you’d like to leave us with? Yes, absolutely. The smallest items of waste all contribute to the huge environmental dilemma we’re facing today. Cigarette butts, for instance, represent almost half the litter we collect. So, the next time you put out a cigarette, take a moment to walk an extra few metres to the nearest bin to dispose of the butt properly. It would save us a lot of work if everyone did that.


We will remember that. Thank you very much for your time Yann, and we are glad we had you today. See you next time.


It was a pleasure, thank you for having me. Thank you.