Legos Still Turning Up On Beaches Of England 17 Years After Spill

| by Jonathan Wolfe

When people go to the beach, they commonly have a good time combing through the sand for things like shells and sand dollars. But for people on the shores of Cornwall, England, time is spent on the beach searching for something entirely different: Legos.

On February 13, 1997 the Tokio Express shipping vessel was rocked by an enormous wave. The wave sent the ship pitching and rolling to severe angles, and over 60 shipping containers were tossed overboard. One of those shipping containers was filled with 4.8 million pieces of Lego, and those pieces have been slowly making their way back to land ever since.

The BBC caught up with Cornwall resident Tracey Williams recently and talked with her about the Legos that keep washing ashore. As fate would have it, many of the spilled Legos are sea items like cutlasses, dragons, flippers, and spears.

"There's stories of kids in the late 1990s having buckets of dragons on the beach, selling them," Williams told the BBC. "These days the holy grail is an octopus or a dragon. I only know of three octopuses being found, and one was by me, in a cave in Challaborough, Devon. It's quite competitive. If you heard that your neighbour had found a green dragon, you'd want to go out and find one yourself."

U.S. oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer spoke to the BBC about the strange Lego appearances and says the story has taught him a key lesson: you never know where something lost in the ocean might turn up.

"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 said. "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."

Here are some pictures, courtesy of Tracey Williams and the BBC, of Legos that have washed ashore:

Lego dragons

Lego daisy

Lego sea-themed items

Lego octopus