The Ocean Cleanup Project is edging ever closer to the rollout of its first plastic collection barriers, continuing to assemble the pieces at its base before towing it some 1,200 nautical miles (2,200 km) out to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. And the team is increasingly confident that it can make the journey, with the latest testing indicating that can stand up to stormy ocean conditions.

Now around five years in the making, the objective of the Ocean Cleanup Project is to clean up the giant pile of floating waste known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by using passive floating barriers and the ocean's gyres. These natural current systems would sweep the plastic into the system's 600-meter long (2,000 ft) open arms and, the team hopes, cleanup half the patch within five years of deployment.

The Ocean Cleanup Project has spent the past few years developing the system, carrying out aerial surveys of the patch and testing a prototype in the Netherlands. Since moving into the former Alameda Naval Air Station in San Francisco in February it has looked to ramp things up, with its first tests designed to explore the system's durability in the waters of the Pacific.

Initially this meant a so-called tow test, where a 120-meter (400 ft) long piece was towed behind a boat in the open water around 50 nautical miles (92 km) from the Golden Gate Bridge, over a period of two weeks. The test piece included floater sections along with the three-meter deep test screen hanging below, and was towed at different speeds and orientations to ensure it encountered a range of wind, current and wave conditions.

Although a severe storm battered the barrier at one point, the team reports that it behaved "very well." The barrier that floats atop the ocean surface is design to bend and flex like an 'S' with the currents and performed as expected. Some minor issues were observed in the screen that hangs below, but the team says these had already been identified beforehand and work is already underway on an improved version for the full system.

All in all, the tests have the team "feeling more confident" with the design and that the full version, System 001, can withstand the conditions in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The next goal is to piece together the full 600-meter long system, with hopes of rolling it out before the end of September.

You can hear from Reijnder De Feijter, technical supervisor for the tow-test, in the video below.

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