OK, they’re not breathing, quacking ducks, but these yellow rubber duckies are helping scientists chart the planet’s ocean currents and are even shedding light on how the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (a floating junkyard of plastic debris stretching hundreds of miles across the northern Pacific) was formed. Nearly 20 years ago, 28,000 of these bath toys were lost at sea when the shipping crate carrying them fell overboard en route from Hong Kong to the United States. (Lost cargo at sea is actually a growing pollution problem.) Since then, researchers have documented Floatees, as they’re called, washing ashore around the world — from South America to Scotland to Australia. There are even 2,000 rubber duckies circulating in the infamous Garbage Patch. All of which goes to show that plastic is a spreading mess of global proportions.