As a child on summer vacation in Cornwall, England in the 1960s, Tracey Williams used to walk the beaches in search of shells and mermaid bags, (egg guts, some belonging to sharks).
The joy of reconstructing the history and journey of US sea beans or lobster trap labels helped walking on the beach became a hobby for life.
On February 13, 1997, the cargo ship Tokio Express, bound for New York, was swept away by a severe storm 32 km off the coast of Land’s End. Sixty-two of its containers fell into the water, including one containing nearly five million Lego pieces.. Coincidentally, many of those were marine-themed pieces, including 54,000 pieces of sea grass, 97,500 scuba tanks and 352,000 pairs of fins.
They reached shorelines around Devon and Cornwall, capturing the imaginations of adults and children alike. The searches for “slippery” toys like the green Lego dragon began: there were only 514 to find, compared to 33,427 black versions. The “holy grail” was the black octopus. There were 4,200 of them, but unlike their primary-colored relatives, octopuses were easily camouflaged. Williams first found a piece in 1997 and the second 18 years later. She believes her first Lego discovery was a small yellow lifejacket, one of 26,600, in Devon.
When Williams, who used to work in media relations and is now semi-retired, moved to Cornwall’s north coast in 2010, she was surprised to find Lego pieces from the spill on her first visit to the beach. “I really had completely forgotten about it,” He says. “But I thought it was amazing, that they are still showing up all these years later.”
Since 2013, he has been documenting some of the mounds of pieces he has found through his social media accounts (Lego Lost at Sea). Now the pieces, their journeys and the scale of plastic pollution that is degrading the oceans are the subject of his book: “Adrift”.
“There’s nothing glamorous about it” Williams says in an interview with iNews. “Balloons, bottles, toothbrushes, printer cartridges, fishing tackle, syringes, medical waste, cargo spill goods. For me, the images are like an online diary, a record of the objects I have found. I am interested in the stories behind them, how they ended up in the sea and what could have been done to prevent that from happening.
Walking on the beach for Williams is shocking: “It’s a mix of excitement and then a kind of horror at the amount of plastic. But sometimes you also find interesting things among them, like beans that have traveled thousands of kilometers.”
A Lego octopus appeared in Texaswhile the fins and flowers reached Australiabut it is difficult to know if they come from the 1997 spill.
To explore the journeys of distinctive toy pieces and ocean plastic in general, Williams plans to work on a scientific paper about the seabed and its currents.
“You never really hear about all the plastic that sinks to the bottom of the sea, how long it lasts and what happens to it,” He says. “Some of the floating Legos had drifted hundreds of miles on the sea surface, carried by ocean currents. Today, fishermen are still scooping up Lego pieces from their nets that sank 20 miles off the Cornish coast 25 years ago. And some of the Legos that fell to the bottom of the sea all those years ago are now gradually making their way to land, swept away by seafloor currents.”
Williams describes the Lego pieces, which he is saving for a future display, as contemporary “archaeological artifacts”. Other finds do not qualify for such a title.
“We try to recycle as much as we can,” he explains. “Right now I have garbage bags full of old clothes and towels and rugs that have been washed up with seaweed from the bottom of the sea.”
Walking with your head down has become a way of life for Williams. Thanks to this, she hopes to raise awareness for the health of the oceans and try to contribute to not throwing so much plastic into the sea. Likewise, from time to time, he enjoys finding another lego that he has been collecting for a lifetime.
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