Shell Cleave, founder of Sea Hugger, pulls out the inner section of the seabin at Pillar Point Harbor. Kyle Ludowitz / Review

There’s a new addition to Pillar Point Harbor that is cleaning the marina of plastic waste. To the untrained eye, it’s hard to spot, but a “seabin” is bobbing up and down at the far end of the west harbor, working day and night.

“It’s like a robot cleaning the harbor,” said Shell Cleave, founder of the nonprofit organization Sea Hugger. 

Installed about two months ago, the device was purchased by Sea Hugger as part of a $25,000 grant from the San Mateo County Office of Sustainability and with funding from the Half Moon Bay Brewing Co. and local environmentalist Chad Conover.

A seabin works by using a pump that draws water into it and by rising and lowering it catches waste in a basket made of fine mesh material. It also has a float on top that traps marine oil. It’s affixed to a dock with a power source.

A Canadian company, The Seabin Project, came up with the idea about five years ago. Since then, 719 Seabins have been installed globally. The seabin can catch an estimated 8 lbs. of floating debris per day or 1.4 tons per year, including micro plastics as small as two millimeters, according to the company’s website.

In 2018 the device was featured as an honorable mention in Time magazine’s best invention of the year.

“It’s a cool new tool that we are going to use and test to see if it will be beneficial in other areas of the harbor,” said Deputy Harbor Master Cary Smith.

There is only one other seabin installed in the Bay Area. It’s located in Ballena Isle Marina in Alameda.

Smith explained the west end of the harbor is a good location for the seabin because the wind pushes the waste in that direction.

Cleave founded Sea Hugger two years ago because, as a surfer and paddle boarder, she continued to see an increase in plastic in the water.

“So, I started it to focus on protecting and healing the ocean from plastic pollution,” Cleave said.

She is working with intern and Half Moon Bay High School junior Brianna Johnson to collect and record the waste the seabin collects. The information will be shared with the Office of Sustainability and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board.

“Protecting the ocean from plastic pollution I believe is paramount because plastic pollution as it is exposed to light it breaks down into micro plastics as it breaks down,” Cleave said.

Since installation, Cleave’s documented the collection of micro plastics, plastic bags, fishing line fibers and cigarette butts. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration defines micro plastics as small pieces of plastic, about the size of a sesame seed. Plastic is the most prevalent type of marine debris found in the ocean, according to NOAA.

Sea Hugger is also expected, as part of the county’s grant, to participate in monthly beach clean-ups using a “nurdle” or a hand-operated rotary filter that sifts plastics from sand. There are no current plans to purchase another seabin, but Cleave said it is something being considered after monitoring how well this one works.

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