The Ocean Cleanup project has been busy knocking up its first barriers since moving into an old naval base earlier this year, and now it's in the process of seeing how the first pieces of the puzzle stand up in the Pacific Ocean.

The team got to work at its new assembly plant in San Francisco in February, with the objective of building a 600-meter-long (2,000 ft) screen that would make use of the ocean's natural currents to collect plastic waste.

The tow test currently underway is the first of three steps that the team will take in rolling out the full-scale barrier by the end of the year. It involved a 120-meter-long (400 ft) section being dragged around 50 nautical miles (93 km) offshore to see how it performs under tow and in the ocean.

This 120-meter section is the first piece of the entire 600-meter system, and was led a merry dance as it made its way out to sea. The tug followed a specific path designed to take the barrier with and against the current and waves, and through different weather and sea conditions as the team kept a close eye on its behavior.

Set to spend a total of two weeks out at sea, the team will continue monitoring its hydrodynamics with the trash-catching screens both lowered and raised. The lessons learned here will help the team prepare to safely tow a full-length system further out to the Great Pacific Garbage later in the year, some 1,200 nautical miles (2,220 km) offshore.

But first the team will recover the 120-meter section, use it to construct the full 600-meter system and then do one final test before the real deal. That will see the full system towed around 240 nautical miles (445 km) offshore for a period of 40 to 60 days, some time between July and September.

View gallery - 16 images