The mounting trash in the sea is a big problem that will take a large-scale solution. Numerous ideas have been put forward, but perhaps none with the big-picture feel of catching plastic waste in floating arms that stretch for 100 km (62.1 mi) across the ocean surface. The Ocean Cleanup Project has now edged a little close towards this goal, banking more than US$1.5 million in funding to move ahead with the first real-world test of its garbage collection barriers.

The Ocean Cleanup project was conceived by Dutch aerospace engineering student-turned conservationist Boyan Slat in 2013. His vision is to have the ocean's natural rotating currents usher plastic waste into long floating arms, and then onwards to a central collection point. If it works as planned, it could cut the time required to clean up the oceans from millennia to mere years.

In December last year, the Ocean Cleanup project announced plans to test its floating barriers in the North Sea, 23 km (14.3 mi) off the coast of the Netherlands. The 100-meter (330-ft) long installation will allow the team to assess the effects of waves and currents, monitoring loads on the system and the motion of the barrier, which have only been tested in computer modeling and model testing in controlled environments so far.

And the pilot has now been fully funded, courtesy of marine contractor Royal Boskalis Westminster N.V., the Government of The Netherlands and one unnamed, environmentally conscious philanthropist, each pledging a third of the required €1.5 million (US$1.7 million). The North Sea installation will remain in place for one year.

Eventually, Slat wants to install a 100-km barrier between Hawaii and California. Analysis of its plastic-collecting abilities has indicated that the barriers could clean up 42 percent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in as little as 10 years. But for now, it's one step at a time, with the smaller prototype to be unfurled in the coming months.

"Making sure the floating barriers are able to withstand the harshest of conditions is fundamental to the success of our mission," says Slat. "I am grateful to our supporters for enabling us to perform these critical sea trials. It is this kind of support which is crucial in our preparation for the largest cleanup in history."

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