This past July, Rob Arnold and a group of volunteers picked up approximately six million pieces of plastic off of Tregantle beach near Cornwall in Southwest England. Much of the plastic debris found has been floating in the ocean for 20 years.
He posted pictures of their findings on Facebook. Within a few days, the pictures went viral thanks to Reddit. “Yeah, it’s got a bit nuts hasn’t it?” Arnold tells Inverse. “It’s taken me by surprise really. It was just something I’ve been sort of working away at, plugging away at, and I thought, ‘I’ll just put it on, someone might be interested.’”
Arnold is from Cornwall and remembers Lego pieces washing onto the shore in 1998 when out walking on the beach with his son. According to an article from 2014 in BBC News Magazine, “353,264 plastic daisies dropped into the sea on 13 February 1997, when the container ship Tokio Express was hit by a wave described by its captain as a ‘once in a 100-year phenomenon’, tilting the ship 60 degrees one way, then 40 degrees back.”
Because of the giant wave, 62 containers went overboard just 20 miles off Land’s End in Western Cornwall. One of the containers had 4.8 million pieces of Legos in it. They were headed to New York City. Now, 20 years later, the pieces are still washing up onto shore.
Many of the Lego pieces found by Arnold are nautical-themed like little flippers and tanks. So where are the actual divers? N one really knows. A Reddit user joked that hopefully they didn’t get eaten by Lego sharks. (But let's be honest, if that were true, it would be the coolest thing ever. That's like our childhood dream come true.)
But Legos are not the only debris washing up onshore. Arnold has collected toy soldiers, golf tees, bottle caps, cigarette holders, and fishing beads. He organizes all his findings for a project that he calls “the big microplastic sort.”
That's a whole lot of random junk found in the ocean. It's like God has a giant junk drawer, opened it one day, looked inside and said, "Damn, I gotta get rid of all this crap," and then just unceremoniously dumped it into the ocean.
According to Arnold, they call their findings, “Beach Treasure." Since the '90s there has been a lot more “Beach Treasure” popping up onshore.
“We’d call it ‘beach treasure,’ and it took us a few years to fill a biscuit tin of these interesting little bits of ‘treasure,’ but now you can go down on the beach and you could fill a van with this stuff,” he says.
And that would be one cool van...especially if it had a racing stripe running across it.
Arnold and his volunteers are not the only ones looking for Legos and “Beach Treasure." The Facebook page “Lego Lost At Sea” is operated by British writer and fellow beachcomber Tracey Williams.
“I feel like we’ve got a little community of people that are interested in things on the beach, because everything you pick up has a story attached to it,” he says. “But also because we are concerned about the problem of plastic pollution.”
Cornwall is not the only place that has been invaded by Legos over the years. A series of maps published in 2015 show that the Lego pieces have also washed up in Ireland, Texas, and Australia. Most of the pieces, however have been found near Arnold in Southwest England.
As unfortunate as this is for our environment, on the brighter side...free toys for everyone!
Arnold has no plans to stop combing the beach anytime soon. “I’m approaching 60. My occupation, I feel, is this campaign. I’m a campaigner against plastic pollution and an artist. That’s me. That seems to be all I’m doing. It’s taken over my life.”