What’s the most memorable thing you’ve ever found on a beach? It was probably a cool-looking shell you were convinced was worth “millions,” or a piece of sea glass you used for a necklace. How about a shark tooth you accidentally stepped on? You never know what you’ll find on the beach, though there’s a good chance you’ve probably never found one thing — Garfield.
That’s what visitors of one particular French beach found. But we’re not just talking one lovable orange cat: we’re talking hundreds. Thousands even. Would that be memorable enough for you? Though as the mystery behind this strange phenomenon began to unravel, one group of environmentalists discovered a truth far more terrifying than even the worst case of the Mondays.
Water pollution is a massive threat to our environment, with millions of tons of plastics and other harmful materials being dumped into the ocean every year. As it stands, over 160 million tons of plastic currently circulate our oceans.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Most of this pollution is your standard run-of-the-mill litter — bottles, to-go containers, fishing debris, and the like. But along France’s Brittany coast, beachgoers have become familiar with a very unusual kind of plastic waste.
On any given day, brightly colored telephones shaped like the lasagna-loving cat Garfield can be found washed ashore, puzzling all those who stumble upon them. Yet this phenomenon is nothing new — these phones have been washing up here for over 30 years.
According to Claire Simonin-Le Meur, president of the trash-collecting group Ar Viltansoù, fragments of the phones have been appearing on Brittany beaches since the mid-’80s. In 2018 alone, over 200 plastic pieces were recovered along the coast.
Even with decades of salt-water erosion, most of the phones that wash ashore still retain their cartoonish charm. Their bright orange bodies and detailed designs still pop, and some even have their original wiring in place.
But for every bit of nostalgia these Garfield phones bring, they raise twice as many questions. Whose phones are they? How did they get here? Will this strange phenomenon ever end? Brittany beachgoers believe they have the answer.
For years, local residents have gotten behind the notion that the phones originated from a shipping container that fell overboard sometime in the ’80s. This belief has remained unfounded, however, as no containers of the sort have ever turned up in the area.
Still, the phones had to be coming from somewhere, and Ar Viltansoù was determined to find the source of the pollution. But the key to unraveling this 30-year-old mystery wouldn’t be found by Simonin-Le Meur and her group — instead, it’d find them.
While removing beached dolphins from a stretch of coastline, Simonin-Le Meur was approached by a local farmer named René Morvan. The farmer found it odd the dolphins washed ashore this time of year, though that hadn’t been the strangest thing he’d seen on the beach that day.
Rockingham Wild Encounters
Simonin-Le Meur knew he was referring to the Garfield phones: after all, nearly everyone who frequented these beaches came across them at some point. Yet it seemed Morvan had more to offer than just a confirmation — not only had he seen the phones, but he knew where they were coming from, too.
According to Morvan, a large storm had struck the area some 30 years ago, and reports had come back that several ships had lost cargo while battling the ocean swells. Shortly after the weather had passed, the first Garfield phone washed up.
Eager to see if the storm had deposited any other treasures, 20-year-old Morvan and his brother searched the coastline until they came upon a cave set into a nearby cliffside. There, partially submerged, they discovered the wreck of a large shipping container.
Though he and his brother were unable to reach the container, Morvan believed the Garfield phones were coming from somewhere within. So, after getting the dolphins safely back into the water, Simonin-Le Meur and her group headed for the cave.
Parc naturel marin d’Iroise / Facebook
Many of the Ar Viltansoù members were hesitant to believe Morvan at first, though as soon as they arrived at the cliffside, their doubts were put to bed. Sure enough, the cave was real, and there, jutting out of its mouth, was the shipping container.
JergJam / Reddit
As they pulled open the rusty metal doors, the group couldn’t believe their eyes at what lay inside. Televisions. Electronics. Shipments of redwood. And beyond all that, set in the very back of the container, were the Garfield phones.
The group turned up hundreds of pieces of the phones, including phone cords still attached to their bases and receivers with still-visible numbers. It appeared the mystery of the Garfield phones had been solved, though this didn’t make the reality any less bleak.
South China Morning Post
While this container’s contents washed ashore and were collected by Ar Viltansoù, most pollution from shipping-related accidents is never recovered. With over 1,500 shipping containers lost at sea each year, the amount of harmful material entering our oceans is staggering.
But the immediate effects of this pollution aren’t the only thing we should be concerned about. Not only is ocean debris harming aquatic plant and animal life in the present, but the consequences it will have on future humans are just as frightening.
“They say in 400 years the plastic will degrade,” said Simonin-Le Meur, “which is to say instead of big, visible pieces of plastic, it will be present in small quantities everywhere, in the water, in the air, in the sand.”
In the wake of solving the Garfield phone mystery, Simonin-Le Meur hopes that their discovery will “speak to people, because it’s Garfield, a cartoon character, it seems nice. [Hopefully] they’ll open their hearts to this subject that doesn’t usually interest them and that will really make them hear what we’re telling them.”
But Garfield phones aren’t the only strange items to have washed ashore in recent years. On the Dutch island of Terschelling, citizens were startled early one morning when they discovered thousands of running shoes covering the sand. Apparently, a cargo ship lost one of its containers during a violent storm, turning the beach into a Foot Locker.
2. Piano: One afternoon, underneath the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, someone came across a piano. Although the body was perfectly intact, it no longer played. No one ever found out who it belonged to.
3. Rubber ducks: Back in 1992, a massive shipping crate full of hundreds of thousands of rubber ducks fell overboard in the middle of the ocean, and still to this day, massive amounts of these bath-time toys still occasionally wash up on the shores of various countries.
4. Giant LEGOs: Not much is known about the Dutch painter and sculptor who calls himself Ego Leonard other than he works with large-scale fiberglass LEGO art. These oversized toys occasionally find themselves on shores all over the world.
5. Perfectly formed snowballs: A Siberian beach was found blanketed in perfectly formed snowballs in 2016. This was due to an extremely rare phenomena causing pieces of ice to roll up and then become smoothly polished by the elements. Did someone say epic snowball fight?
6. Giant eyeball: In 2012, someone came across a giant eyeball while walking along the shore in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. People naturally wanted to believe it came from some kind of undiscovered sea monster, but scientists determined it belonged to a massive swordfish.
7. E.T.: One afternoon, a person thought they saw a lifeless body floating in the shallow ocean water. Upon further inspection, it was actually a life-sized doll of E.T.! Talk about discovering something alien!
8. Bananas: In 2007, six enormous crates of bananas fell overboard from a ship traveling to Cuba. Almost all of them somehow made the long journey to the shores of Terschelling in the Netherlands. Yep, that’s right. The same place that was the recipient of those thousands of pairs of running shoes. Weird…
9. Inscribed rocks: While people were taking a stroll along a beach in Oakville, Ontario, they came across a stack of rocks with inspirational and personal messages inscribed on them. Did whoever wrote them ever find their soulmate?
10. Mechanical hand: Someone dropped a mechanical prosthetic hand into the water near Staten Island, New York, and it quickly washed ashore. Who did it belong to? Apparently, one very clumsy robot.
11. SpaceX debris: On the beach of Elbow Bay in the Bahamas, people were in shock when they found massive chunks of metal lying in the shallow waters. Where did they come from? They were pieces of one of SpaceX Falcon 9’s crashed rockets.
12. Intact shipwreck: This ship, called Navagio, is a tourist attraction in Greece. It was built in 1937 and was used to smuggle cigarettes. After it was destroyed in a massive storm while trying to flee the Greek Navy in the 1980s, it eventually washed ashore on a beach in Navagio Bay.
13. Strange gelatinous blobs: Throughout 2015, about a billion of these weird gelatinous blobs of jelly called velella washed up on west coast shores of the United States. As dramatic and bizarre looking as the incident was, marine biologists actually said it happens roughly once every three to six years.
14. Doritos: On the beaches of North Carolina one morning, a massive shipping container full of Doritos washed ashore. Thousands of bags of the popular snack were strewn all over the sand, much to the delight of the hungry beachgoers.
15. Flyswatters: In 2012, off the coast of Alaska, a cargo ship lost several crates of flyswatter with college sports teams’ insignia printed on them. Insects beware, Notre Dame is coming for you…
16. Harley-Davidson motorcycle: After a devastating tsunami hit Japan in 2011, one man’s Harley-Davidson motorcycle was swept out to sea. Incredibly, it was found 5,000 miles away on a beach in British Columbia!
17. Dead birds: Roughly 6,000 deceased waterfowl washed up on the shores of Georgian Bay in Ontario, Canada. Scientists believed they all consumed botulism-laced fish, and although die-offs of large numbers of birds isn’t extremely unusual, the number of waterfowl had scientists quite startled.
18. Drugs: In 2013, off the coast of Japan, someone found six backpacks stuffed with packages of cocaine. The total weight of the narcotics was 78 kilograms, and police estimated the find to be worth $70 million!
19. Sea mine: When one family came upon this mystery object at the beach, they initially thought it was some kind of buoy that made its way onto the land. In reality, however, it was actually a World War II-era mine!
20. Giant pipes: Early one morning in August 2017, beach walkers in Norfolk, England, were greeted with massive sections of metal pipes. Some of them were as long as 1,500 feet and eight feet in diameter! They had reportedly broken off a Norwegian tug boat after it collided with an Icelandic container ship on its way to Algeria.