It has been calculated that every year up to 10,000 steel containers are lost from the decks of cargo ships. The stuff that is lost often finds itself swept along in a grand tour of the world’s oceans thanks to systems of rotating ocean currents known as gyres. Unseen and largely unnoticed by any of us apart from oceanographers and other sea obsessives, these watery highways circulate the flotsam and jetsam of the world in huge, rhythmic circles.
In 1990, for example, around forty thousand pairs of Nike trainers were lost from the Hansa Carrier cargo vessel during a storm off the coast of Alaska. It wasn’t long until they found themselves circulating in the Turtle gyre. Funky little sneakers found there way to the beaches of Vancouver Island and points all down the Western Coasts of America and deep into Polynesia. They travelled at an estimated average speed of 5.5 miles per day in an orbit of around 12, 000 nautical miles.
Seven years later, over 800,000 pieces of Lego – mostly scuba tanks, octopuses and little yellow men – were lost from the Tokio Express cargo ship off Land’s End in Cornwall. This plastic population began to circulate the transatlantic ‘Columbus Gyre’ in a speedy rhythm of over seven miles per day in an orbit of 8,000 nautical miles.
Amazingly, in the year 2000 a freighter dropped a shipment of 17-inch computer monitors, which reappeared — thanks to the Aleut Gyre — on beaches from Oregon to British Columbia, having travelled an orbit of 7,200 nautical miles.
Source: Flotsametrics And The Floating World by Curtis Ebbermeyer – Wired Magazine 2009
Illustration: Richard Sanderson