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X marks the spot?

The ocean holds many treasures -- some glimmer, some don't.

A 400-year-old maritime statue has been fished out of the ocean along the Dutch shore. The historical treasure, made from oak, is a welcome change to the flip-flops and other floating (s)crap that usually make the headlines.

A shrimp boat circling the island of Texel found a strange and heavy object in its net. Upon closer inspection, the crew were struck by a pair of fierce eyes staring back at them. The wooden bust they had recovered from the ocean’s depths bore a thick moustache, uniform and hat popular in the 1700s.

A local archaeologist confirmed initial suspicions: the rare find is part of a ship in the Dutch navy during the 80 Year War against Spain.

‘It’s incredible how well preserved this piece is,’ exclaims archaeologist Michiel Bartels, who cites many layers of sand as the key ingredient for its ‘good-as-new’ condition. The pirate-like figurehead with its sunken eyes and tough appearance was meant to scare opponents when going into battle.

Believe it or not

This discovery led me down the rabbit hole of other strange things found at sea. As more than 70% of our planet is covered by water and around 80% of this remains unexplored, who knows what’s out there?

US diver Paul Hepler came across two fully intact trains off the coast of New Jersey in 1985. Historians believe they fell off a barge, creating an eerie locomotive graveyard, which has become a popular spot for wreck diving.

During a storm in 1998, a shipping container carrying 28 000 rubber ducks fell overboard. Ever since, they have been spotted on the shores of Scotland, South America, Hawaii, Alaska and Australia. A group of scientists is monitoring their journey to map the flow of currents. Fun fact: there was even a book written about it, called “Moby Duck”.

And did you know the world’s oldest shipwreck dates back to 65BC? Archaeologists based on the Greek island of Antikythera came across it in 1901 – stunned by not only the oldest underwater skeleton but a strange bronze device dubbed an ‘analogue computer’. The mysterious ‘Mechanism of Antikythera’ served to calculate astronomical dates and acted as a social calendar for big events like the Olympic Games.

Plastic mine

These weird finds, however, don’t hold a candle to the aquatic plastic mine. Researchers at the University of Cádiz in Spain have revealed that 80% of materials swirling around in the ocean are plastics. Four common items making up almost 45% of all trash found in the ocean: around 15% are plastic bags; 12% is food packaging (mainly bottles); 10% is disposable cutlery; and almost 10% is sweet and food wrappers. Though the issue inspires beautiful photos.

Recent studies have shown that plastic waste ends up in both the Swiss Alps and deep sea trenches. The latter was proven by scientists surveying footage taken of the Mariana Trench, the deepest point of the Pacific Ocean, which extends nearly 11 000 metres (12 000 yards) down. They found the trench has higher levels of pollution in certain areas than some of the most polluted rivers in China.

On the plus side, more people are getting involved in clearing our oceans. Pioneers like Boyan Slat (The Ocean Cleanup) and other waste recovery companies (SpillTech, WasteShark, The Sea Cleaners) are making a dent. That’s got to count for something, surely?

Progress is slow and comes with a lot of trial and error. True innovation is hardly ever easy. For now, I’m glad the world is realising that plastic waste is, in fact, a plastic treasure. I just hope it won’t take another 400 years to dig it up…

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