In 1997, a particularly large wave hit the container ship the Tokio Express while she was underway in the seas south of Ireland and the southern tip of England, knocking a few of the large containers loose into the waters. One of those opened containers held Lego kits — in a beautifully cosmic bit of irony — held millions of pieces with nautical themes, from tiny plastic octopuses, sea dragons, divers flippers, spear guns, sea grass, and even scuba gear. The container plummeted to the sea floor, probably spilling Lego kits all the way down, and settled on the bottom, content to slowly burp out any remaining Lego pieces with the shifting currents. Not long after the accident, residents of Cornwall, England started finding the Lego pieces washed up on the shore.

Lego pieces that washed up on shore.

And today, nearly 20 years later, they're still finding the nautical Lego pieces on the beach. Finding and collecting the pieces has evolved into a full-blown cultural phenomenon. Cornwall resident Tracey Williams maintains a Facebook page, Lego Lost At Sea, that maintains nearly daily postings and has about 35,000 fans.

Black octopus

One of the small details that I like best about this story is that, thanks to the shipping manifest for Tokio Express, we know exactly how many pieces went into the drink when that large wave struck: 4,756,940. Exactly 4,200 black octopuses were sunk, 353,264 miniature daisies, 26,600 life preservers and 97,500 scuba tanks. This gives hunting and collecting the pieces a nerdy bit of exactitude and probability. Finding a black octopus makes for a very good day.

Lego pieces display

Want to read more about oceans, currents, and plastic? Check out these articles here on MNN:

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Shea Gunther is a podcaster, writer, and entrepreneur living in Portland, Maine. He hosts the popular podcast "Marijuana Today Daily" and was a founder of Renewable Choice Energy, the country's leading provider of wind credits and Green Options. He plays a lot of ultimate frisbee and loves bad jokes.

The Lego pieces that won't stop washing up on the beach
In 1997, a cargo ship was hit by a rogue wave off the coast of England, losing a container of nautical-themed Lego kits in the process.