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Why Are All These Legos Washing Up on the Beach?

Why Are All These Legos Washing Up on the Beach Megan Garber The Atlantic

A rogue wave and a lot of plastic octopi shed light on the workings of ocean currents.


Stashed in: LEGOS!!!, Stories, Under the sea!, Florida!, LEGO

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It started in 1997. On February 13 of that year, a rogue wave hit the New York-bound cargo ship Tokio Express while it was only 20 miles off Land's End, on Britain's southwest coast. The ship stayed afloat; some of its cargo, however—62 shipping containers—were thrown overboard as the vessel pitched. One of these containers contained Legos. Tons of Legos—many of them, because of course, nautical-themed. There were toy kits that included plastic aquanauts. And spear guns (13,000 of them). And life preservers (26,600). And scuba tanks (97,500). And octopi (4,200). 

In all, that day in 1997, exactly 4,756,940 pieces of Lego sank to the bottom of the sea. But they didn't stay submerged. Or, at least, they didn't all stay submerged. One container opened; its contents billowed out into the Atlantic. "No one knows exactly what happened next," reporter  Mario Cacciottolo notes, "or even what was in the other 61 containers, but shortly after that some of those Lego pieces began washing up in both the north and south coasts of Cornwall." And: "They're still coming in today."

For most sea debris, the trip from Land's End to Florida takes, all told, about three years. Given that it's been nearly two decades since the wave hit the Tokio Express, and given as well that Legos make for light travelers, you'd think that some of the ship's plastic booty would have made it to the U.S. "But," Cacciottolo writes, "there isn't any proof that it has arrived as yet."

It hasn't arrived anywhere, that is, but Cornwall. There's something about that stretch of coast, and about the waters that lead to it, that make it a popular end point for the man-made objects that sail the seas. 

5 million pieces of LEGO. Under the sea. Cool.

Thousands of pieces of LEGO.  On the barefoot beach.  Ouch.

LEGO feet ouch


Where is Land's End?

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