A huge floating device designed by Dutch researchers to clean up an island of garbage in the Pacific Ocean that is triple times the size of France has effectively picked up plastic from the high seas for the first time.

A pile of single use plastic water bottles found during a beach cleanup in Barbados. Follow on Instagram @wildlife_by_yuri
Photo by Brian Yurasits / Unsplash

Boyan Slat, the maker of the Ocean Cleanup venture, tweeted that the 600 meter-long (2,000ft) free-floating boom had captured and retained debris based on what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Alongside an image of the collected waste, which includes a vehicle wheel, Slat stated: "Our ocean cleanup system is now finally catching plastic, from one-ton ghost nets to tiny microplastics! Also, anyone missing a wheel?"

Around 600,000 to 800,000 metric tonnes of fishing gear is abandoned or lost at sea every year. Another 8m tonnes of plastic waste flows in from beaches.

Sea flows have brought a huge patch of such detritus together halfway between Hawaii and California, where it is kept in unpleasant formation by a sea gyre, a whirlpool of currents. It is the biggest collection of plastic in the world's oceans.

The huge cleaning system is designed to not just collect discarded fishing nets and enormous visible plastic items but also microplastics.

The plastic barrier floating on the outside of the sea has a three meter-profound (10ft) screen beneath it, which is expected to trap some of the 1.8tn pieces of plastic without disturbing the marine life below.

The device is fitted with satellites and sensors so it can communicate its position to a vessel that will collect the gathered trash every few months.

Slat told a press conference in Rotterdam that the issue he was trying to comprehend was the huge cost that would come with utilizing a trawler to gather plastics.

He stated: "We are now catching plastics … After beginning this journey seven years ago, this first year of testing in the unforgivable environment of the high seas strongly indicates that our vision is attainable and that the beginning of our mission to rid the ocean of plastic garbage, which has accumulated for decades, is within our sights."

"We now have a self-contained system in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that is using the natural forces of the ocean to passively catch and concentrate plastics … This now gives us sufficient confidence in the general concept to keep going on this project."

The plastic gathered so far will be brought to shore in December for reusing. The project accepts there might be a premium market for things that have been made utilizing plastic recovered from the sea.

“I think in a few years when we have the full-scale fleet out there, I think it should be possible to cover the operational cost of the cleanup operation using the plastic harvested,” Slat said.

The plan is to now scale up the device and make it progressively sturdy so it can hold plastic for as long as a year or possibly longer before collection is important.