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March 2022    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 48, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Lego Reveals the Longevity of Plastic in the Ocean

from the March, 2022 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Remember those 28,800 plastic duck bath toys that were lost overboard in the North Pacific in 1992 and floated around the world? When they were found on beaches, students used their location to understand the role of the Earth's rotation in creating ocean currents.

In 1997, the Tokio Express, bound for New York from Rotterdam, lost 62 containers overboard to a freak wave off Land's End in southwest England. These, too, have provided clues about the effects of oceans and tides, because one container contained 4.8 million Lego pieces. Fishermen in Cornwall are still bringing up Lego items when trawling 25 miles offshore Newlyn in southwest England. Caught in nets, they include toy roof tiles, door frames, car chassis, octopuses, seaweed, and lots of Lego bricks.

In the 25 years since, those pieces could have drifted 62,000 miles, meaning they could be on any beach on Earth, and they could continue to circle the Earth for centuries. Someone in Melbourne found a Lego flipper which they think could be from the Tokio Express. This year, someone found a Lego octopus at Galveston Island Texas and displayed it at a Florida beachcomber's fair.

With trillions upon trillions of pieces of microplastic awash in the oceans, the Colourful Coast Partnership in the UK says that the Lego pieces turning up visibly highlight the serious problem of plastic pollution. Should you ever find a tiny plastic octopus floating by, go to the Facebook page, Lego Lost at Sea, to report your findings alongside the thousands of other pieces recorded worldwide:

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