Tackling ocean plastic pollution in 4 maps

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Jun 15, 2021

Tackling ocean plastic pollution in 4 maps


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Jun 15, 2021

The Ocean Cleanup is on a mission to clean up ocean plastic. Working holistically, their goals are to remove existing floating plastic and to prevent it from entering the ocean in the first place. To honor this month’s World Ocean Day, explore the challenges of —and solutions to— ocean plastic pollution through The Ocean Cleanup’s four powerful maps.

“Ocean plastic pollution is a global issue with complex mechanisms, distribution, and scales. The Ocean Cleanup uses interactive maps (powered by Mapbox) to visualize our research and initiatives which greatly helps to disseminate information and knowledge to the public.” - Laurent Lebreton, Head of Research, The Ocean Cleanup
The Ocean Cleanup’s first passive plastic cleaning system deployed in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, October 2018

Map 1: Plastic pollution river sources

80% of plastic pollution comes from roughly 1,000 rivers worldwide. The Ocean Cleanup developed a global river model to identify the river mouth hotspots for plastic pollution, based on extensive data collection and river surveys. The river sources map visualizes their findings, illustrating that while the problem of polluted rivers is bigger than previously estimated, it is still definable and manageable. By prioritizing the most polluted rivers, the organization can maximize the impact of clean-up and waste management efforts. Read their article or watch their making-of video for more about how The Ocean Cleanup modeled and mapped the river sources.

The Ocean Cleanup’s ‘Sources’ map

Map 2: Price tag of plastic pollution

Plastic pollution comes with a high cost - an estimated $19 billion for 87 coastal countries in the last year alone. The Ocean Cleanup (in partnership with Deloitte) calculated the global economic impact of ocean plastic pollution on three key industries: Fishing & Aquaculture, Tourism, and Government. Their second map, Price Tag of Plastic Pollution, visualizes the findings of this first-of-its-kind analysis.

Counting the cost of inaction on plastic pollution

Map 3: Tracking trash

Launched today, the Plastic Tracker map connects the global ocean plastic problem to any individual anywhere in the world. The map illustrates the journey of a single piece of buoyant plastic from the moment it is first released into the environment along a possible route it might follow to reach the ocean. Each trajectory is modeled using a Lagrangian plastic dispersion model that uses data on ocean currents, river mouth emissions, inland waters flow direction, and probability of reaching the shore.

Follow single pieces of plastic on a 20-year journey

Map 4: Citizen science

The Ocean Cleanup is supported by a global network of ‘citizen scientists’ —individuals who report observations of plastic waste to help researchers better understand plastic pollution and help The Ocean Cleanup refine their cleanup strategies. The Citizen Science map displays the aggregate data collected via the River Plastic Survey and Ocean Plastic Survey apps. Clustering keeps the map easy to use even as the number of reports grows.

Visualizing citizen science data from around the world

Behind the maps

The Ocean Cleanup chose to build with Mapbox in order to improve the way they communicate research findings to diverse audiences and raise awareness for their cause. The combination of custom map styling in Mapbox Studio and the flexibility of building with Mapbox GL JS and external data sources enabled The Ocean Cleanup to build performant, feature-rich maps with a consistent design across their site.

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Photos: The Ocean Cleanup research team processes ocean plastic samples in the laboratory; River plastic research in Malaysia, conducted by The Ocean Cleanup crew and local research partners; Laurent Lebreton, Head of Research at The Ocean Cleanup, carrying out desk research; and The Ocean Cleanup’s citizen science crowdsourcing apps. (Photo credit: The Ocean Cleanup)

Build more ocean maps

The Ocean Cleanup’s Plastic Tracker map was inspired in part by a Mapbox GL JS example of how to animate a line by incrementally updating a GeoJSON source. Sam Learner’s epic River Runner map takes similar inspiration from the example of animating the camera along a 3D terrain path. Explore other examples for design ideas.

Video from Youtube The Ocean Cleanup

For data inspiration, explore the numbers behind The Ocean Cleanup’s river sources map, the data for which is available for public download so that others can use it to prioritize, develop, and implement plastic pollution solutions. Try combining this data with our new public tileset of bathymetry data and take styling notes from Jonni Walker’s recent exploration of plastic pollution data.

If you are using location tools for positive impact, in our oceans or beyond, the Mapbox Community team is here to support you.