Millions of LEGO pieces fell off into the sea in 1997 and to this day, millions are still washing up on Cornish beaches. The accident has led to a curious insight into the mysterious world of our tides and oceans.
On February 13th, 1997 a containing ship Tokio Express was hit by a rogue wave, tilting the ship 60 degrees one way, then 40 degrees the other. The hit caused the ship to lose 62 of its containers nearly 20 miles off Land’s End. One container was filled with almost 5 million pieces of LEGO.
Shortly after, LEGO pieces began to wash ashore at the north and south coasts of Cornwall and to this day, 17 years alter, they are still coming in.
Humorously, some of the LEGOs are nautical-themed, such as flippers, octopi, seagrass and scuba gear.
There is currently a Facebook page dedicated to documenting the LEGO discovers and US oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer has been tracking the spill since it occurred. “The mystery is where they’ve ended up. After 17 years they’ve only been definitely reported off the coast of Cornwall,” he says.
With what we know of ocean currents, its likely that some LEGOs have made a trip around the world. Says Ebbesmeyer, “I go to beachcombing events in Florida and they show me Lego – but it’s the wrong kind. It’s all local stuff kids have left behind.”
Theoretically, the LEGO pieces could keep going around the ocean for centuries, and some pieces could be on beaches all over the earth.
“The most profound lesson I’ve learned from the Lego story is that things that go to the bottom of the sea don’t always stay there,” Ebbesmeyer adds. The incident is a perfect example of how even when inside a steel container, sunken items don’t stay sunken. They can be carried around the world, seemingly randomly, but subject to the planet’s currents and tides.Tracking currents is like tracking ghosts – you can’t see them. You can only see where flotsam started and where it ended up.”