BOSTON (AP) – Nobody won any money on this ducky derby.

But oceanographers and environmental activists say the trans-Arctic voyage of some well-traveled bathtub toys has taught valuable lessons about the ocean’s currents.

A floating flock of rubber duckies is expected to wash ashore soon, somewhere along the New England coast, after falling from a container ship en route from China to Seattle more than 11 years ago

The ducks – their yellow coats now bleached white – are stamped with the brand “The First Years.” They are sometimes accompanied by their floating friends: red beavers, also now faded to white, blue turtles and green frogs, says Curtis Ebbesmeyer of Seattle, a retired oceanographer who’s been tracking their progress.

The toys were cast overboard in January 1992, when 20 containers were lost in a Pacific ocean storm, near where the 45th parallel meets the international date line.

From there, Ebbesmeyer said, the 29,000 toys floated along the Alaska coast, reaching the Bering Strait by 1995 and Iceland five years later. By 2001 they had ridden currents to the area where the Titanic sank.

“Some kept going, some turned and headed to Europe,” he said. “By now, hundreds should be dispersed along the New England coast.”

Ebbesmeyer said the toys have been a useful tool in teaching oceanography, and have shed light on the way surface currents behave.

They are also a sobering reminder that about 10,000 containers fall off cargo ships each year, creating all manner of flotsam and jetsam.

Fred Felleman, northwest director of the environmental group Ocean Advocates, said container ships carry 95 percent of the world’s goods and are stacked higher and wider than ever before, raising the odds of spillage in rough weather.

“Some 30 percent have hazardous materials in them. They’re not just spilling Nikes,” he said.

According to Ebbesmeyer, 30 percent of the garbage that washes up on the western coast of Great Britain is from the United States, while 10 to 20 percent of what washes up on the Pacific coast of the U.S. is from Japan.

“When trash goes into the ocean, it doesn’t disappear,” Ebbesmeyer said. “It just goes somewhere else.”



On the Net:

www.beachcomber.org

AP-ES-07-10-03 2207EDT



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