Cargo spill results in world-wide trainer wash-up

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 21 June 2019

A single ship is likely to be the source of hundreds, possibly thousands of trainers, flip flops and other footwear that have been washed up on beaches in various parts of the world since last year.

Nike shoe on beach
© Tracey Williams

Whatever it is - if it is sinking to the bottom or washing up on beaches - it’s going to have a detrimental impact to the marine wildlife

Lauren Eyles,
MCS Beachwatch Manager

The first findings were in Flores Island, in the remote Atlantic archipelago of the Azores by Gui Ribeiro, who picked up about 60 Nike trainers in just a few months. Since then trainers and flip flops have been found in Cornwall, Ireland, Orkeny, the Channel Islands, Bermuda, the Bahamas and France.

It’s thought the source of the flotilla of footwear is the cargo ship, Maersk Shanghai, which lost almost 80 containers overboard in rough seas off the east coast of the US between Virginia and South Carolina.

It may be a quirky story but there are real long-term impacts from an event like this according to MCS Beachwatch Manager, Lauren Eyles: “Whatever it is - if it is sinking to the bottom or washing up on beaches - it’s going to have a detrimental impact to the marine wildlife. The shoes will be breaking down to micro-plastics over years, which will have huge impacts on the amazing wildlife we have both in the UK and worldwide.”

Oceanopgrapher, Dr Curtis Ebbesmeyer, told the BBC how the shape of the shoes seems to dictate where they end up. “The left and the right sneakers float with different orientation to the wind. So when the wind blows on them they will go to different places. So on some beaches you tend to get the left sneakers and on others you get the right.”

Lauren Eyles says that isn’t enough data currently to draw proper conclusions on the role container spills play in the overall pollution of our oceans. Whilst products like trainers harm marine environments, she said, they do not count as “harmful” for the purpose of reporting cargo lost at sea, as shipping companies only have to report lost cargo that could become hazardous to other vessels or if they include substances deemed “harmful to the marine environment”, such as corrosive or toxic chemicals.

Actions you can take

  1. Join a beach clean
  2. Download the Great British Beach Clean Report 2019
  3. Visit the beachwatch website
  4. Organise a beach clean

Did you know?…

To date, our beach cleans have removed over 11 million pieces of litter

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is thought to be 6 times the size of the UK


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