30-year mystery of Garfield phones washing up on French coast SOLVED

Decades-old mystery of Garfield phones washing up on French beaches is SOLVED: 1980s shipping container surrounded by orange plastic handsets is found in a cave after a farmer remembered it washing up in a storm

  • Phones began washing up on Iroise coast in the 80s, but source was a mystery 
  • Farmer saw reports and remembered container that came ashore in a storm
  • Campaigners found the container inside a hidden sea save, along with phones
  • But container is now buried beneath rock, meaning phones cannot be salvaged
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A 30-year-old mystery has finally been solved after conservationists found the source of plastic Garfield phones that have been washing up on French beaches. 

A local farmer led activists to a sea cave on the Iroise coast in Brittany where he saw a shipping container full of the phones wash up during a storm in the 1980s.

Inside, they found the rusting remains of a container along with phones wedged between rocks which were in a better condition than those found on the beach.

As a result, the anti-plastic campaigners concluded this had to be the source of the litter which has been coming ashore for the last three decades.


These are the rusting remains of a shipping container that has been polluting the beaches of Brittany with orange Garfield phones for three decades

The phones have been washing up on the Iroise coast since the 1980s, but until this week nobody knew for certain where they were coming from

The cave is only accessible for a short time at low tide, explaining how the cargo was able to remain hidden for so long. 

Speaking to FranceInfo, the farmer said: ‘You had to really know the area well. 

‘We found a container aground in a fissure. It was open. Many of the things were gone, but there was a stock of phones.’

He also revealed that it was news reports about the phone mystery that had jogged his memory and prompted him to come forward.

However, campaigners warn that discovering the container will not put an end to the phones polluting beaches.

The metal box is largely buried underneath rocks, meaning they cannot retrieve it, and the phones will not degrade on their own.   

Last year alone, 200 phones were recovered between the municipalities of Plougonvelin and Plouarzel and in many cases the bright orange plastic was virtually undamaged, despite decades in the water.

Campaign group Ar Viltansou had promoted the story of the phones as a warning about plastic pollution, but it also jogged the memory of a local farmer who saw the container wash ashore

The farmer led campaigners to a sea cave that is only visible for a short time at low tide, and inside they found the container along with a lot of phones 

In their original state, the home telephones – which were hugely popular at the time – were roughly 30cm long, with eyes that opened and closed. 

Environmental group Ar Viltansou, which has cleaned local beaches for 18 years, said the plastic could last forever in the ocean.

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‘It is almost intact usually, it’s just missing the electronic components from inside the phone,’ said group president, Claire Simonin Le Meur.

‘I can not imagine that these phones could ever be completely destroyed, given their state of conservation after more than 30 years in the water.

‘The oceans do not ‘digest’ plastic; sometimes it transforms it into microplastics, which are even more dangerous for fauna and flora.

‘Nothing is lost, nothing is created, things, at most, change. The bright-orange phones are such a regular sight on the beaches of Finistère that new finds are now used to chart the movement of plastic in local waters.

The home telephones – which were hugely popular at the time – are roughly 30cm long, with eyes that open and close

Despite finding the container, campaigners warn that it is buried under rocks so they cannot remove it, and because plastic does not degrade, the phones will continue to appear 

‘Oceans must open our eyes to the urgency of changing our relationship to plastic,’ said Ms Simonin Le Meur, 40.

‘This stance of looking away on the pretext that most maritime problems are hidden underwater is not an acceptable position.’ 

What local beachcombers find varies – sometimes it’s the phone’s unbroken plastic casing, while at other times it’s just an arm, a leg, or an eye.

‘They are revealed at the will of the tides, especially after the storms’ said Ms Simonin Le Meur.

She continued: ‘In most countries of the world, the cleaning of beaches and shores is a task that is not devolved to anyone, so it is devolved to us all.

‘No one would think of seeing a wounded dog and look away without helping him. For us, to walk on a beach and see waste, and leave it there, is as unacceptable as not helping that dog.

‘Nature is like a wounded animal and helping it has become a reflex for us.’

Launched in 1978, Garfield the cat was created by Jim Davis and is the world’s most widely-syndicated comic strip. 

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