Log In

Reset Password

How lost cargo of bath toys tells story of ocean health and climate change

World traveller: 20 years after 28,000 rubber ducks were lost at sea, they continue to wash up on beaches all over the world

Moby-Ducks: yes, I’m talking about the ones your children and grandchildren (and maybe even you) played with in the bathtub.

In January 1992, a cargo ship, the Ever Laurel heading to the United States from China, lost a container with 28,000 rubber ducks during a severe storm in the North Pacific Ocean.

In 2005 – 13 years after the duckies were launched into the world’s largest bathtub, journalist Donavan Hohn decided to attempt to track the “Moby-Ducks” ocean current movements. As he stated in his acclaimed, definitive book and the NPR (National Public Radio) podcast linked below, “I thought, no problem, this could be accomplished right from the comfort of my own living room! I figured I'd interview a few oceanographers, talk to a few beachcombers, read up on ocean currents and Arctic geography and then write an account of the incredible journey of the bath toys lost at sea."

Instead, he literally traversed the world – from Northwest to Alaska to Hawaii to China and then to the Artic – shipping aboard a Canadian icebreaker, crossing on a freighter in the Pacific Graveyard during a winter storm, and experiencing a high-speed ferry through China’s industrial backwaters of the Pearl River Delta. He met environmentalists, industrialists, conservationists, and beachcombers, one of whom gave Hohn his own rubber duck – found during a participatory clean-up in northern Alaska.

The Chicago Sun-Times review said it best of Donovan’s book: “Hohn navigates the complicated fields of oceanography, environmentalism, globalisation and maritime shipping with surprising humour and ease, raising pressing questions about these topics without giving any clear answers to them – because there aren’t any. Hohn cleverly uses the deceptively whimsical premise of chasing a little plastic duck to provoke a massively complicated and thought-provoking conversation. Who knew spilt bath toys could be so important?”

More than 25 years later, the “Friendly Floaties” were still making landfall in various countries across the globe, providing oceanic scientists with concrete evidence of ocean current formations alongside the insidious effect of the indestructibility of plastics and the toxins used to produce them.

Moby-Ducks not surprisingly have become collector items!

A reflection

We are surrounded by our beloved ocean. Bermuda islanders have used the sea and its bounty for survival, maritime commerce, and relationships for more than 400 years. It is part of us, every day, every week, every year – it is with us always. Our sea proximity is ever changing – in days of astounding light and beauty juxtaposed with turmoil during nature’s destructive forces.

Do we take its health for granted?

Yawn. You’re thinking the sea has always been there. What’s the big deal?

Unfortunately, that may be the attitude since these disasters don’t affect one directly, so why should we care?

That is where you are mistaken.

Subliminally, without knowing we are all taking a financial and ecological hit.

• Cost to the community fishing industry

• Less fish to catch and sell, higher prices

• Cost to our health. Micro plastic particles and toxins ingested by sea animals and fish migrating insidiously up the food chain to us.

• Decreasing oxygen in our ocean from climate change placing fast metabolism fish species at risk

• Decreasing ocean plant, kelp, seagrass, etc. beds. Manatees are dying from starvation in Florida. Sea orcas and others are on the endangered list.

• Sea grazing areas stressed due to imbalances between turtles and their antagonists

• Coastal ecosystems collapse due to overgrazing and pollution

• Live coral dying due to climate change and warming oceans, leaving “dead oceans” in their graveyards

• Cost of clean-up man- made spills, e.g. oil

• Ocean current irregularities, and global warming changing land and sea climates.

Personal experience

We developed a habit of walking down to a small shallow bay, filled with warm ocean water and grassy weeds at end-of-day dusk in summer. The smaller turtles would turn up, sometimes as many as a dozen or more, swimming, diving, and surfacing back and forth in the twilight. This went on for several years.

Then one year, we showed up as usual to watch the turtle feeding routine, and only saw one lonely hardback soul – then no more.

In daylight, we realised that no grass had grown over the winter – none. We never saw the turtles again – there!

The destruction of our oceans is accelerating.

The big question: three generations from now, will our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren even know what a fish is, let alone eat one?

Great kudos

Volunteer clean-up lady extraordinaire Steph Brown, recruitment partner – who, for more than 80 days, has been collecting Bermuda residents’ lazy and careless trash disposal – my words. Can we begin to imagine the day when Steph does not find any trash?

Announcing the Bermuda Climate Summit 2022 on the new date of May 24, 2022, leading the charge in climate risk finance hosted by Business Development Agency Bermuda in partnership with Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers (Abir) and KBRA. Contact bermudaclimate@bda.bm.


Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them, Donovan Hohn, https://tinyurl.com/y7y4tn5h

Podcast: NPR Fresh Air interview with Donavan Hohn and Dave Davies.

National Geographic. Follow the Friendly Floatees, a fascinating, detailed lesson course in oceanography for students (6-8 grade) and adults! https://tinyurl.com/yb9s9k72

National Geographic. Drowning in Plastic. Our Oceans’ Garbage Patches https://tinyurl.com/y85gahxu

British Sea Fishing- the Friendly Floatees


Going With the Flow. How drift bottles and rubber ducks unravelled the mysteries of ocean currents. https://tinyurl.com/ydbs4h67

Martha Harris Myron is a former qualified international financial planner, the author of The Bermuda Islander Financial Planning Primers, international financial consultant to the Olderhood Group Bermuda Ltd, and ardent promoter of financial literacy

You must be Registered or to post comment or to vote.

Published February 19, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated February 21, 2022 at 7:53 am)

How lost cargo of bath toys tells story of ocean health and climate change

What you
Need to
1. For a smooth experience with our commenting system we recommend that you use Internet Explorer 10 or higher, Firefox or Chrome Browsers. Additionally please clear both your browser's cache and cookies - How do I clear my cache and cookies?
2. Please respect the use of this community forum and its users.
3. Any poster that insults, threatens or verbally abuses another member, uses defamatory language, or deliberately disrupts discussions will be banned.
4. Users who violate the Terms of Service or any commenting rules will be banned.
5. Please stay on topic. "Trolling" to incite emotional responses and disrupt conversations will be deleted.
6. To understand further what is and isn't allowed and the actions we may take, please read our Terms of Service
7. To report breaches of the Terms of Service use the flag icon