Decades-old Lego still washing up on UK beaches

The Lego pieces that keep washing up on the UK coastline after spilling from a container ship 27 years ago show just how big the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans really is, says an avid British beachcomber.

Author Tracey Williams lives on the beach in Cornwall, where the 1997 storm led to a cargo ship spilling masses of Lego parts into the sea.

She has made it her mission to collect and catalogue as many of these pieces of plastic as possible, and to draw attention to the wider issue of plastic pollution.

Speaking to RNZ Nights, Williams said the cargo ship was on its way from the Netherlands to the United States when it ran into an “almighty storm” about 20 miles off the Cornwall coast.

“And 62 shipping containers fell off the vessel and one of those contained nearly five million pieces of Lego. There was a lot of mess at the time, a lot of people were out clearing it up, but we’re still finding it today.”

She said the search for the Lego had a whimsical touch – especially when much of it was sea-themed, such as tiny flippers, scuba tanks, life-rafts and bits of ship rigging – but it also showed how long plastic lingered in the coastal environment

Williams has written a book about the Lego spill – Adrift: The Curious Tale of the Lego Lost at Sea.

After moving to Cornwall in 2010, she thought it was “astonishing” that the Lego was still showing up years later.

She started by setting up a Facebook page to catalogue the Lego, “and people started to get in touch in their thousands and it all took off from there”.

There have been reports of the Lego washing up on the coasts of Spain and France, with oceanographers believing the pieces could have gone right around the world by now.

“Obviously it’s very hard to tell if a flipper found on the coast of Australia was from the spill or not, so you don’t really know, but it’s possible.

“It’s certainly travelled far and wide.”

She said they were now mapping where all this Lego turned up for a scientific paper to show how currents move around the world, with other tests finding the pieces could linger in an marine environment for hundreds of years.

“The Lego started as a bit of fun, but it really opened my eyes to what a serious problem we have.

“The more I looked for the Lego with my children, the more I started to see the rest of the plastic in the ocean and on the sand, so it’s such an important message, how much plastic is out there, and searching for Lego made me realise what a big problem it is.

“It’s fascinating what you find, and tragic at the same time.”


According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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