One Big Wave, and Millions of Lost Legos

Lego dragons Bigbury

Photos courtesy of Tracey Williams

On Feb. 13, 1997, about 20 miles off the coast of England, a massive wave hit the freighter Tokio Express, toppling 62 giant containers into the rough north Atlantic seas.

Trapped inside one of them: nearly 5 million Legos. Many floated to the surface. Carried by currents, they’re still being found on beaches around the world nearly two decades later. Others remain on the ocean floor. It’s not unusual for fishermen trawling the Atlantic to haul up tiny Legos.

The fact that so many of the pieces were nautical themed – sea dragons, pirate swords, sea grass and scuba gear, among others – has turned the Lego spill into one of the most famous and unusual marine debris incidents in recent maritime history.

In Newquay, a seaside town in England, writer and longtime beachcomber Tracey Williams started a Facebook page a few years ago – Legos Lost at Sea – that tracks the whereabouts of the lost Legos as they wash up onto beaches.

Williams recently spoke to the Beach Chair Scientist blog about her work, and you can hear more of what she has to say below. But she hopes to turn the public fascination, much of it generated from a recent BBC story on the spill, into a teaching moment about the harmful environmental impact of marine debris.

Lego octopus Terena

“Clearly, 5 million pieces of Legos spilling into the ocean isn’t good for the environment,” Williams said in a recent phone interview. After the BBC interviewed her about her site a while back, the publicity resulted in people contacting her with stories about beach-bound Legos around the world.

“It has connected beachcombers all around the world, which is fascinating,” Williams said.

She received one report of a Lego flipper found on an Australian beach. She’s also heard from the family of a woman who had scoured the beaches for Lego dragons as a hobby in her 80s, passing her finds along t0 younger generations.

“Obviously, marine debris is a big problem. But I think many children have been captivated by this whole Lego story … I think it reminds people of their childhood. It’s the whole issue of marine debris. Oceanographers are interested in how far it’s spread.”

Meanwhile, she also hears from fishermen who come across Lego pieces in their nets.

“Half of it sinks and half of it floats,” Williams said, referring to the sorts of Legos that fell off the Tokio Express. “So clearly, while we’re finding certain items washed up on our shores like the spear guns and the flippers, fishermen are actually finding other pieces like window frames and car chassis.”

While the lost Legos have made for fun beach combing and treasure hunts, there are bigger questions beneath the surface. If the contents of just one toppled shipping container can spread around the world for decades, what about far bigger and more dangerous spills that go unnoticed because they don’t happen to have Legos in them?

“There were 62 containers that fell off the Tokio Express back in 1997 and we only know about what  was in three of them,” Williams said.

“What’s in all of the others and when will that all wash ashore?”

You can listen to more of Williams and the story of the lost Legos here:

What you need to know about World Shorebirds Day: Saturday, September 6th

world-shorebirds-day1000My husband isn’t happy about this … But, recently, I have found a new love of birds. It’s because we live in the woods and not near the ocean, so those flighted friends have stolen my heart just like fish did back some many years ago. My husband thinks it is hysterical since we grew up in Cape May County, NJ and birders are synonymous with “tourists”, a group to which locals have a love/hate relationship. But, I don’t care … I can hardly contain my excitement for this Saturday – during World Shorebirds Day!

The celebration was proposed and organized by György Szimuly, a well-known bird conservationist based in Milton Keynes, England. Szimuly set out to promote and celebrate shorebirds.

Find out the differences between a seabirds, shorebirds, wading birds here.

“The idea to hold a World Shorebirds Day was inspired by the ongoing conservation issues we have been facing,” Szimuly said. “I think that setting a commemorative day for shorebirds will give conservation bodies and individuals another chance to educate.” He continues that “This is not particularly a citizen science program, but rather an effort to raise awareness for the importance of regular bird monitoring as the core element of bird protection and habitat conservation.”

“I think the global shorebird counts are a good get-together event,” Szimuly said. “I asked birdwatchers to book their site now, where they can go counting shorebirds on the 6th and 7th of September.” There are hundreds of sites and counters already registered for the World Shorebirds Day. The ‘booked’ sites can be seen on the event’s Google Map. https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=z3yRwAVo2mAw.k42bDqIRe7a4.

Follow the activities and learn how to submit data of World Shorebirds Day on the website blog and Facebook page.

What’s it like to be a Maine lobsterman?

Are your kids interested in a career on the water? Sounds like a great time to check out this video and go out lobster fishing with the award winning Aqua Kids! They’ll learn from teen lobster fishermen in Maine some of the challenges of the job (e.g., timing how long their nets are in the water, regulating the size of “catchable” lobsters). But, most impressively what is on the young lobstermen’s mind is how to make sure their practices are sustainable.

Aqua Kids motivates today’s youth to take an active role in protecting and preserving our marine environments.

 

Wordless Wednesday | Limulus Love

 

LLSunsetFor more images from Beach Chair Scientist, please visit Flickr.

What’s in a name? Game: “Fishy” Fourth of July Edition

Can you match the scientific name to each of the fish from this Independence Day-themed trio? Leave your answer as a comment. Even better … also, try to identify each one by their common name.

BCS_ColorfulFishFourthEdition

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July, everyone!

The short and sweet of horseshoe crab spawning

You may have heard about the phenomena of horseshoe crab spawning … but, do you really know what’s going on? It’s when hundreds of thousands of these ancient arthropods (dating back 400 million years!) make the journey to low-energy sandy beaches along the Atlantic coast, predominately along the Mid-Atlantic region (highest concentration found along the Delaware Bay), around the time of the full and new moons of May and early June to spawn. Here’s the distilled version of the horseshoe crab spawning saga complete with the words you need to know (i.e., “pedipalps” and “satellite” male) if you want to be considered a horseshoe crab expert. Who doesn’t?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/beachchairscientist/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/beachchairscientist/

  1. Journeying from intertidal and deeper waters, male horseshoe crabs arrive near the beach waiting for females.
  2. As the females come closer to shore, males attach to the female’s abdomen. The extra claw, or “pedipalps”, is what the male uses to attach itself to the females.
  3. Not just the one … but, many “satellite” males follow the conjoined pair.
  4. The females dig a depression about 5 to 30 centimeters deep in the upper part of the beach and deposit the clusters of eggs.
  5. External fertilization occurs – Allows for a little extra competition from the “satellite” males!
  6. Repeat steps 1 through 5 multiple times per season, laying 3,650 to 4,000 eggs in a cluster (usually an estimated 88,000 eggs annually!).
  7. In 2 to 4 weeks after fertilization, planktonic larvae hatch from the eggs. Some slow moving larvae may even winter within the nests and hatch out the following spring.
  8. After hatching, larvae swim for about six days before they relax in shallow waters to molt into their first juvenile stage in approximately 20 days.
  9. For the first two to three years of life horseshoe crabs molt many times over, growing a quarter of their size each time. Once sexual maturity is reached they slowdown their molting to once per year.
  10. Horseshoe crabs mature around 10 years of age (or 17 molts) and are known to live to be approximately 20 years of age.

For more information on horseshoe crabs and “99 reasons I am in Limulus Love” check out my horseshoe crab page here.

Penguins and pebble proposals

Have you seen this floating around the internet these days “33 Awesome Marriage Proposals You Couldn’t Say No To“? Well, I’m a romantic so I read them all and boy was I excited when I made it to #32 … all about that cute and fluffy flightless bird, the penguin. Check out the image below:

penguinproposal

I was a little annoyed at the generalization (not all penguin species participate in this practice), but then remembered the point of the article is sharing undeniably adorable proposals, not teaching marine science. Where did this statement come from? Well, most likely this was swiped from the movie Good Luck Chuck. See the scene below:

So to shed a little light on this generalization here goes it … The Gentoo and Adelie penguins are the two species out of the 17 known species of penguins to participate in this practice. According to the “Observations on Animal Behaviour” blog “During courtship, the male will present the female with a pebble as a gift. If the female accepts the generous gift, they bond and mate for life. These pebbles hold considerable value and they are also symbols of affection toward a mate. It’s actually quite touching that he would give one away when he’s fighting ferociously to defend his pebbles.”

Gentoo penguin

Gentoo penguin

Adelie penguin

Adelie penguin

Happy World Penguin Day!

From USFWS “Miracle Migration: The Long Distance Flyer, Rufa Red Knot”

Thank you to the Northeast Office of the US Fish and Wildlife Service for posting this graphic on their Twitter feed! With the mention of horseshoe crabs, how could I not repost this!?!

  • Did you know that shorebird hunting in the Caribbean and South America may contribute to the red knot’s decline along the Atlantic coast? (OK, how can we get this practice to stop trending? Those poor little birds!)
  • With scientific management measures now in place, horseshoe crab harvest is no longer consider a threat to the red knot?
  • Habitat loss due to sea level rise, shoreline development, and human development are still consider threats to the red knot?
  • One banded red knot, B95, was nicknamed “Moonbird” because researchers discovered this bird had flown enough miles to get to the moon and back!
via @USFWSNortheast

via @USFWSNortheast

 

Why you should never walk on dunes

It might seem nonsensical since the dunes look calm and peaceful, but it’s not a good idea to explore dunes. In addition to being illegal in many coastal towns, here are six other reasons why you should stay off the dunes:

1) Dunes store sand that help diminish potential shoreline erosion.
2) Dunes absorb the impact of storm surge and high waves.
3) Dunes prevent water from flooding coastal towns.
4) Dunes provide habitat and crucial nesting area for threatened and endangered species.
5) Dunes create a relaxing backdrop to any beach.
6) Dunes buffer the full force of the ocean and protect property.

BCS_Dunes

For more on dunes, their importance and role in beach ecology, check out the post “From Sandy, coastal towns learn ‘dune’ diligence. Is it enough?” written immediately after Hurricane Sandy.

What are the names of juvenile coastal and marine animals?

Well, it’s been quite some time since I’ve posted and it’s all due to an adorable little distraction – my son was born in early January. The addition has been wonderful and fairly stress free (keep your fingers crossed!). In fact, I have to say this time around my biggest stress was picking out a name. We had a boy name chosen, but not a girl name, so the decision was easy. However, it got me thinking about what juvenile marine animals are called. Here is a list of ‘baby’ names of over 25 well-known ocean animals. After all, you don’t accidentally want to refer to a juvenile shark as a calf or a juvenile eel as a spet, do you? If you can expand or elaborate on the list feel free to share in the comments box.

Birds
Flamingo, gull, heron, penguin: Chick
Crane:  Chick or craneling
Pelican: Nestling

Fish
Barracuda: Spet
Cod: Codling, hake, sprag, or sprat
Eel: Elver
Most fish: Fry or fingerling
Salmon: Smelt

Invertebrates
Blue crab: Larva
Clam: Larva, chiton, or littleneck
Horseshoe crab: Larva
Jellyfish: Ephyrae
Oyster: Spat
Sand dollar, sea urchin, sea star: Larva or pluteus (free-swimming stage)

Marine mammals
Dolphin, manatee, porpoise, whale: Calf
Otter: Whelp or pup
Shark, seal, sea lion: Pup
Walrus: Cub or pup

Reptile
Turtle: Hatchling

What this short video for some cute pictures of featured juvenile coastal and marine animals. Which one is your favorite?

Juvenile Animal Names from Beach Chair Scientist on Vimeo.

For more information:
http://www.pawnation.com/2013/11/19/baby-animal-names/7
http://www.defenders.org/sites/default/files/publications/sea_otter_faqs.pdf
http://www.zooborns.com/zooborns/baby-animal-names.html
http://www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/animals/Animalbabies.shtml
http://www.english-for-students.com/Names-of-Baby-Animals.html
http://www.pawnation.com/2013/11/19/baby-animal-names/7
http://dictionary.reference.com/writing/styleguide/animal.html
http://www.horseshoecrab.org/info/lifecycle.html
http://www.bluecrab.info/lifecycle.html
http://www.jellywatch.org/blooms/facts