Free Lego For Beachcombers
July 24, 2014

Free Lego For Beachcombers

The whole world loves a Lego, don’t they? Those little colored bricks are capable of making anything your imagination can conjure up, and when your kids get Legomania, it can bust your bank balance wide open as you try to feed the beast. But now, for some people, Lego pieces are turning up on the beaches of Britain’s West Country where they can be picked up for free. So, where are all these little plastic treasures coming from?

As the local rag, the West Briton, reported recently, the story began back on February 13th, 199,7 when the large container ship Tokio Express hit a big storm as she sailed approximately 20 miles off Cornwall’s Lands End — the very tip of the English mainland. Every year, more than two thousand containers are lost at sea, but this particular cargo included something just a bit special. The ship was heading for Connecticut when a huge wave rolled the vessel so violently that 62 steel containers broke away and went into the sea. Inside one particular container was a crate containing Lego pieces — 4,756,940 pieces to be precise. Apparently, over three million of them were so light, they would float and, rather delightfully to my mind, many of these had a nautical theme, as they were from Lego’s “Aquazone” collection, including brightly colored plastic fish. They had found their true home in the sea. Among them were 92,000 pirate cutlasses, 13,000 red and yellow spear guns, 418,000 pairs of diver flippers, 26,400 bits of ship rigging net, 4,200 black octopus, 26,600 yellow life preservers, and 97,500 scuba and breathing apparatus kits. Also lost were over 400,000 black and green dragons and thousands of daisy flowers.

Collecting the Lego harvest has become a local cult and even something of a cottage industry in the 1990’s with local kids selling recovered Lego by the bucket load on Cornwall’s beaches. In the 17 years since the wreck, it is believed that some pieces have drifted right around the world. There is a thriving Lego beachcomber fraternity, which even has its own Facebook page. Here aficionados swap their stories and photos of their discoveries with claims of Tokio Express pieces being washed up as far away as Port Phillip Bay near Melbourne, Australia. It seems that the “Holy Grail” for the Lego hunters is the coveted octopus with a green dragon being top of many a hunter’s wish list. There is even a green dragon finders club.

This sort of thing is not unique. In February, 2012, the UK’s Guardian newspaper printed a fascinating piece on a similar fate that befell 28,800 bath toys that were showing up on beaches after being lost at sea in the Pacific in 1992, some 20 years before. The ship in question this time was the Evergreen Ever Laurel and among its cargo were dozens of cardboard boxes containing thousands of plastic animals — beavers, turtles, frogs, and yellow ducks. The articles were made in China and were described as “Dishwasher Safe,” which should have prepared them nicely for the tempestuous sea journey they were about to experience. When the ship ran into a hurricane, at least 12 containers went overboard. Around 10 months later, some of the animals found their way to shore and were picked up by beachcombers on Chichagof Island in Alaska. There were so many that some people filled up skiffs and even a bath tub.

The article was written by Donovan Hohn, who became obsessed with the tale of the ducks. He even wrote a book about the subject — Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 bath Toys Lost at Sea. Hohn’s story, like the Lego finds in Cornwall, has a quirky charm and, let’s face it, a cutesy fun side, but he draws attention to the serious side of plastic spillage — the millions of tons of plastic that find their way into the world’s oceans and wreak havoc on the marine environment. His journey eventually takes him to South Point, Hawaii where natural conditions of constant onshore winds and currents have created an unenviable collecting point for plastic debris. 20 tons find their way there each year. A major effort is under way to gather up the larger items, but the multicolored “plastic sand” that results from the slow grinding down of debris in the turbulent oceans is impossible to remove. If scientists tried to perfect the perfect, everlasting marine pollutant, they could hardly come up with anything better than plastic.

This is the classic “two sides to every story” scenario, but at least the Lego hunting beachcombers are doing their bit, however small, to clean up a fraction of the ocean’s garbage while having a heck of a lot of fun in the process.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Eric Hopton is a writer, musician, artist, and photographer. He has a degree in Social Anthropology and has always been passionate about travel, having so far visited 73 countries. His music and sound work has been used in many projects around the world and can be heard on Bandcamp and Freesound, where he has contributed over 1,300 sounds under his sonic alter ego, ERH.

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