Lost Sea Cargo: Beach Bounty or Junk?

Janice Podsada
June 19, 2001

As you read this, more than 50,000 Nike tennis shoes are circling the globe like a convoy of tiny striped canoes.

but this flotilla of footwear is hardly alone at sea. It's been joined by thousands of Tommy Pickles cartoon heads, plastic turtles, rubber ducks, 3 million Lego pieces and, at last report, 34,000 hockey gloves.

All this stuff and more is bob, bob, bobbing to a beach near you, said Seattle-based oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer.

This month, Nike Cross Trainers are expected to wash up on Everett's beaches in Washington State, after falling into the Pacific Ocean in December 1999. This weekend will be a good time to comb local beaches, as low tides of more than minus three feet (one meter) are predicted.

But be patient—some items won't wash ashore for another ten years, said Ebbesmeyer, who's mapped Puget Sound from Tacoma to Whidbey Island since 1966.

Each year, manufacturers around the world ship more than 100 million containers—each the size of a semi-truck—across the seven seas.

Gumball dispensers, doll heads, and Beanie Babies stitched and glued in China sail across the Pacific Ocean to U.S. ports. Made-in-Hungary frocks and Pez candies travel 10th class across the Atlantic on container ships, which carry on average 4,500 containers.

But not all of them will reach port.

Every year, more than 10,000 containers fall overboard and spill their cargo into the ocean. Storms are often to blame.

An 8-foot by 40-foot container (2.4-meter by 12.2-meter), which can carry up to 58,000 pounds (26,000 kilograms) of cargo, might hold 10,000 shoes, 17,000 hockey gloves, or a million pieces of Lego.

Ebbesmeyer and his partners at Evans and Hamilton, Inc., a Seattle firm, design and manufacture instruments that measure ocean currents. The company is mapping north Puget Sound for a King County project that will locate a wastewater treatment plant in Snohomish County.

Lots of Cool Stuff Gets Lost at Sea

Continued on Next Page >>



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