When Boyan Slat was two years old, he began building things. From a young age, he was fascinated with science and engineering. When he was 14, he was called a “boy genius” after organizing an event that launched 214 water rockets simultaneously and garnering a Guinness World Record in the process. Four years later, he stood on stage and gave a TEDTalk about cleaning the Earth’s oceans. People didn’t take him seriously. Now, they probably wish they had.

Boyan’s idea came to him in 2011. Boyan was just 16 at the time and was driving along the coast in Greece when he looked out at the water. “There were more bags than fish down there,” he said and decided to do something about the amount of garbage that is in the ocean. He set his sights on The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or GPGP for short, spans 617,763 sq miles and contains at least 79,000 tons of plastic waste a recent study found. That area is more than twice the size of Texas. For years, oceanographers and marine biologists have warned about the increasing danger to marine wildlife but no one has come up with a working plan until Boyan.

His answer to the massive problem? He founded The Ocean Cleanup which develops technology that would help rid the ocean of all of the plastic waste polluting it. And he’s using the ocean itself to get it done.

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