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Why LEGO Bricks Are Washing Up

Back in 1997, a container ship named Tokio Express was hit by a HUGE wave that ended up tilting the ship 60 degrees one way, then 40 degrees back, jiggling 62 containers in all, right over the side of the ship about 20 miles off Land’s End. One of those containers was filled to the brim with about 4.8 million LEGO bricks. Shortly after the incident with the wave occurred, LEGO pieces began to wash up on both the north and south coasts of Cornwall, and even though this happened 17 years ago, the bricks are still washing ashore today.

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What’s Fun About This?

Clearly, people, perhaps kids especially, delight in finding a rare, older, yet still pristine LEGO brick thought to be lost at sea. Oddly, the story gets more fun because in an ironic twist of fate, many of the LEGO bricks lost at sea were nautical-themed, so locals and tourists are likely to find tiny scuba gear, octopus, seagrass, flippers, spear guns, and more, though other bricks like dragons, flowers and entire toy kits were also lost overboard.

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What’s Bad About This?

Clearly, as we’re all aware, plastic doesn’t biodegrade. Many of the LEGO pieces washing up today are still in perfect shape — and it’s estimated that a total of 3,178,807 LEGO bricks lost in the sea may have been light enough to have floated away, meaning they could be polluting any part of the sea by now. In fact, U.S. oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer has been tracking the LEGO story for the past 17 years, and tells the BBC that by now many of the lost “pieces could have drifted 62,000 miles… It’s 24,000 miles around the equator, meaning they could be on any beach on earth. Theoretically, the pieces of LEGO could keep going around the ocean for centuries.” Ebbesmeyer also notes that LEGO bricks floating in the ocean are a deadly poison for birds.

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Why Shipping Needs Improving

Clearly, this is not the fault of the LEGO company, but may be attributed to shoddy shipping problems. Ships may tilt, so container packing and securing is a key issue, especially when you consider how many container problems there are. According to a World Shipping Council, survey an average of 675 containers have been lost at sea each year between 2008-2010, while another survey says the average loss between 2011-13 was approximately 2,683 containers. No matter what a container is carrying, that’s a lot of trash ending up in the ocean and on our beaches, and is in no way a boon to marine life. Learn more about this story and see more images of LEGO bricks on the beach at the BBC.

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All Images via BBC/Tracey Williams