Today in 1997, a container ship called Tokio Express ran into a massive wave off the coast of Cornwall, in southwest England.

It lost 62 of its containers and all the cargo they contained, including close to 4.8 million Legos that were being sent to New York.

And for decades, the pieces from what’s sometimes called The Great Lego Spill have been showing up on beaches all over the place.

This was, of course, not the first time toys that had been lost at sea found their way back to land.

The Legos went overboard five years after 28,800 rubber duckies went into the drink after a cargo ship encountered a storm in the Pacific Ocean.

And, much like the rubber ducks did, the Lego bobbed around in the water until currents brought them back to beaches.

There were so many Lego that showed up on beaches in Cornwall, that people started collecting them, and talking with other collectors.

They sorted and cataloged what they had found, and then checked those findings against the itemized list of Lego that they knew had been aboard the ship.

Some of the collectors are drawn to the story.

They like the idea that there are, say, 240 sets of Lego diving flippers that ironically ended up in the actual ocean, and they want to see how many of those they can find.

Some of the pieces have become collectors items.

Less than a week ago, someone found a rare green dragon that probably came from the spill.

But others are using the story to raise awareness about the dangers of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.

While many Lego can float, and will eventually end up back on a beach in the UK, or India, or somewhere else, others might end up in a sea creature’s stomach.

And as small as some Lego pieces are, there are even smaller microplastics that are showing up at sea and raising big environmental concerns.

So if you’re out on the beach somewhere, keep an eye out for some well-traveled Lego.

And definitely make sure they don’t end up back in the water.

Sure, you could get flowers and chocolates for a special someone on Valentine’s Day.

Or you could do this.

The Bronx Zoo has a program each year where, for 15 bucks, you can name one of their Madagascar hissing cockroaches after your significant other.

For 35 bucks, you can name a roach and get a tote bag!



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Photo by julochka via Flickr/Creative Commons