Lost At Sea, Legos Reunite On Beaches And Facebook

Jul 26, 2014
Originally published on July 31, 2014 7:43 am

Nearly two decades ago, a massive wave struck the Tokio Express, a container ship that had nearly 5 million Legos onboard. The colorful toy building blocks poured into the ocean. Today, they are still washing up on shores in England.

Tracey Williams and her children first happened upon the Tokio Express Legos in the late 1990s. Since then, she's created a Facebook page called — Lego Lost At Sea — where other collectors show off their findings.

Williams, who lives in Cornwall, tells NPR's Scott Simon that among the many small, colorful and ironically nautical-themed Lego bits are flowers, swords, life vests, scuba tanks and even Lego octopi.

Williams says she started the page to document the washed up Legos because she was fascinated that they were still washing up after so many years.

"I thought it would be quite interesting, from a scientific point of view, to monitor where it was all turning up, what was turning up and in what quantities and who found it," Williams says.

Based on submissions to the Facebook page, the Lego pieces have reportedly washed up in several areas of England and Ireland, Williams says. She says she has even had reports that pieces have allegedly been found in Holland and as far as Australia, though she hasn't been able to verify those yet.

"Oceanographers say it is perfectly feasible after 17 years that this Lego could have gone around the world," she says.

Williams says that while it is fun to find these Legos on beaches far and wide, what this incident does is highlight the issue of marine debris. As part of a beach cleanup group, she says there many cargo spills every year and debris is often found from those spills for years to come.

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You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Nearly two decades ago, a massive wave struck the Tokio Express, a container ship with nearly 5 million Legos on board. The colorful toy blocks poured into the ocean and are still washing-up on shores today. Tracey Williams and her children first encountered the Legos near her family home in the late 1990s. We spoke with her this week about a Facebook page she created where she and other collectors can share their finding.

TRACEY WILLIAMS: Well, what happened is I forgot all about the Lego for a while. I moved away from the sea. And in 2010, I moved back to Newquay. And I was amazed to see that very same Lego was still washing up now 17 years since it all spilled into the ocean. And I just was astonished. And I'm part of a beach cleaning group here in England. And I started to see other bits of Lego on other people's Facebook pages. And I was intrigued. And I thought it would be actually quite interesting from a scientific point of view to monitor where it was all turning up and what was turning up and in what quantities and who'd found it.

SIMON: What kind of condition are the Legos in?

WILLIAMS: Well, worryingly they're perfect. Some of them are a bit broken. I mean, the thing is with Lego, it's indestructible really, isn't it so? But that's worrying in it's own right, isn't it? Because it's still out there in the ocean and it's still washing in literally every day.

SIMON: Do you have any indication from your Facebook page or other avenues as to how far away some of these Tokio Express Legos have reached?

WILLIAMS: Well, we know it's washing up around Devon and Cornwall. It's washing up in Wales, too, and also in Ireland. And I've had a report in the last couple of days - which I haven't yet verified - that it's been found in Holland. And I've also been contacted by somebody in Australia who's found one of the little blue flippers on the strand line there. And obviously we don't know whether it's from our same cargo. But apparently oceanographers tell me it's perfectly feasible after 17 years that this Lego could actually have gone around the world.

SIMON: You don't often hear a sentence like this - this Lego could've gone around the world.

WILLIAMS: What's interesting is that it highlights the whole issue. I think of marine debris, although it's quite fun to find a bit of Lego, there are so many cargo spills every year. And we're picking up intravenous bags at the moment from the cargo spill in 2007.

SIMON: Yeah. So I'm guessing that since the late 1990s, your children might have - not that we ever outgrow Legos, but I'm guessing...

WILLIAMS: I don't think anybody outgrows Legos. The enthusiasm from the Facebook page and the delight people express when they find it and - somebody was saying this morning - a lady who's got children of her own - grown-up children. She still says she has to do a happy dance every time she finds a bit of Lego on the beach.

SIMON: Tracey Williams, who created the Facebook page Lego Lost at Sea. Thanks so much for being with us.

WILLIAMS: It's a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.