Friendly Floatees: Bath Toys Become World Travelers
Ever wondered what happens to float-able plastics that end up in the ocean? They travel all across the world.
Since 1992, plastic bath toys have been traveling across the world going with the current. These toys, dubbed the Friendly Floatees helped scientists map out the surface currents of the ocean.
The Toys that Saw the World
Created by First Years Inc. these floating bath toys were made to look like ducks, beavers, frogs, and turtles. In January 1992, a shipment of the toys was traveling across the Pacific Ocean on a container ship, known as the Ever Laurel, from Hong Kong to America.
Half way across the ocean, the Ever Laurel endured a rough storm. Somewhere in the Pacific, the crate containing the 29,000 toys fell off of the ship and was lost forever, or so they thought. The toys were made of fully sealed plastic so they continued to float across the Pacific. This accident launched a 20+ year study of ocean currents which revolutionized the understanding of how objects can travel across the world in currents.
Over 20 Years of Tracking
When an oceanographer named Curtis Ebbesmeyer learned about the toys falling into the Pacific, he began his study tracking these friendly floatees. Pinpointing the exact location where the toys entered the sea, Ebbesmeyer was already working on creating an ocean surface current model and decided to incorporate the floatees to his research.
The first floatee was discovered 10 months after the incident on the Alaskan coast. 400 were found in a one month period along the eastern coast of the Gulf of Alaska, 1.4% of the floatees that were initially determined to be lost at sea. Next, Ebbesmeyer predicted that the toys would hit the coast of Washington in 1996, which a handful of floatees did make landfall on Washington in 96’.
In the long term, researchers predicted that the floatees would circle the Pacific several times, then pass though the Bearing Straight into the Arctic icepack and eventually to New England and finally to Europe. This process was supposed to take 5-6 years for the toys to exit the Arctic icepack. First Years Inc. the company who made the toys even offered a $100 bounty to anybody who recovered a Floatee in New England, Canada, or Iceland.
Floatees have been found on the shores of Hawaii, South America, Australia, and even one was found in Scotland in 2007.
The Legacy of the Friendly Floatees
These toys have given scientists valuable information about the Pacific gyre; A circulating current which runs between Japan, Southern Alaska, Kodiak, and Aleutian Islands. Although scientists knew of its existence, before the toys they had no clue how long a complete circuit would take. Now scientist know it takes around 3 years for a full circulation around the Pacific gyre.
The Friendly Floatees received their name from a new report looking to give the story a nickname.
Thousands of the friendly floatees are said to still be circulating the Pacific in the gyre. The information from this study is being used to research the island of garbage in the Pacific gyre and to predict the effects of climate change on marine environments. From his research with the floatees, Dr.Curtis Ebbesmeyer developed a computer model which predicts and tracks the movement of ocean currents.
Although they are children’s toys, this is a prime example of how plastics can end up in the ocean. The Pacific garbage mass is now as large as Western Europe.
The floatees have become extremely valuable, some people are willing to pay up to $1,000 for a genuine floatee.
Shipping Containers Lost to the Ocean
The actual number of shipping containers lost each year is highly debated, some people say as many as 10,000 containers are lost to the ocean each year whereas others believe that number is as low as 2,500. With no formal reporting or accountability system in place, there is no definitive answer at this time.
First Year Inc. may have lost their shipment of bath toys, but if they had marine cargo insurance they were reimbursed for their cargo. The only way to truly protect your business from cargo loss and damage is with marine cargo insurance.