PHOTO: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is located between Hawaii and the coast of Los Angeles in the US (R).(Supplied: The Ocean Cleanup)
As scientists look to find a way to rid the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch of thousands of tonnes of waste plastic, a prototype ocean cleaning system has been deployed in the North Sea off the coast of the Netherlands.
Developed by the Dutch foundation, the 100-metre-long barrier prototype — known as the Ocean Cleanup system — is powered by the ocean's currents and acts as an artificial coastline that can catch and concentrate debris in water.
The team behind Ocean Cleanup aims to achieve "the largest clean-up in history" when the nearly 100-kilometre full system is deployed in the Pacific in 2020.
But compared to previous efforts and technologies aimed at cleaning up the Pacific patch, Ocean Cleanup founder Boyan Slat said the new system differed in that it allowed "the natural ocean currents to do the hard work".
"Instead of going after the plastic, we propose to deploy a very long array of long floating barriers, which are attached to the sea bed, and will allow the natural ocean currents to do the hard work for us," Mr Slat told the ABC's Pacific Beat program.
The Ocean Cleanup system collects plastic by allowing the ocean's currents to move through it, rather than deploying vessels to scour the oceans.
"Basically it acts as an artificial coastline where there is no coastline," Mr Slat said.
PHOTO: A 100-metre prototype of the Ocean Cleanup system deployed in the North Sea. (Supplied: The Ocean Cleanup)
But for now, the purpose of the prototype is not to clean plastic from the ocean, but to use the North Sea's rough currents to ensure the system can survive for years out in the Pacific.
"The objective of this test is to see whether we can build something which is able to survive at sea for years," Mr Slat said.
"Right now what we see from the data is that it's still there, in one piece, and we've actually had some rough seas, so it's promising.
"But the whole reason to test is not to prove ourselves right but to look for the things that don't work."
Private companies interested to buy plastic
To date the project had mostly been financed through crowdfunding and donations, but for the 1.5-million-euro ($2.23-million) prototype, the Dutch Government came on board to co-fund the project.
Mr Slat said there had been increasing demand from private companies to buy the collected plastic.
"Part of our resources are currently dedicated to researching the recycling possibilities of the material we would retrieve from the ocean," Mr Slat said.
"And what we see is that the quality of the plastic is really high … and there are also a lot of companies now showing interest in buying up that plastic once we've taken it out of the ocean.
"Our hope is that once the technology is proven, we should be able to cut the clean-up costs, at least by using the revenue generated by selling this ocean plastic to make it into new products."
Mr Slat said the offers from companies to buy up the collected plastic demonstrated just how much plastic was believed to be out there.
"I think about a year ago some people told us there were 100,000 tonnes of plastic out there, while others have said 100 million tonnes out there, so it's quite a lot, but the uncertainty is even bigger," Mr Slat said.
"So what we then did in August last year, is cross the garbage patch with 30 boats at the same time to really take more measurements, and what we found is that there is actually a lot more plastic than people thought was out there."
Mr Slat said that was because his team did not only measure the extremely dangerous micro-plastics, as is often done, but the larger pieces as well.
"What we found is that most of the mass is in those big objects, which is obviously very relevant, because all those big pieces will crumble down into those dangerous micro-plastic over the next few decades if we don't do anything about it," he said.
"So if we don't clean it up, micro-plastics could potentially increase to up to almost 50-fold."
Here's another great post from Tech Insider about the Ocean Cleanup prototype: http://www.techinsider.io/ocean-cleanup-floating-garbage-collector-2016-7