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The MSC Zoe disaster

Can you imagine a beach full of My Little Ponies? Or dikes so full of Styrofoam that it looks like it has snowed? If you haven't seen it with your own eyes, it seems unimaginable. But it really happened. In the first week of 2019, the Wadden Sea was full of plastic waste due to the MSC Zoe disaster.

MSC Zoe containerramp

MSC Zoe, the mega container ship

The unthinkable happened. On January 1, 2019 one of the largest container ships in the world lost 345 sea containers. This happened just above the Dutch Wadden Islands. In the hours that followed, the beaches were filled with all kinds of stuff that had been in the containers. My little ponies, stools, TVs, folding chairs, lights, car parts, cleaning cloths, soap dispensers and so on.

In addition, endless amounts of cardboard, Styrofoam, plastic and other packaging materials were added. Some containers are the size of a classroom and are always completely full. You can imagine how much stuff ended up in the sea.

MSC Zoe containerramp

Clean-up actions

At the end of the day on January 2, it became clear that a large part of the Wadden Sea coast on the mainland was also full of Styrofoam. After a call for help from a local forest ranger, we asked the public to join us in cleaning up the coast. After all, we have been organizing cleaning campaigns along the coast for years.

Hundreds of people on their feet

Beach clean-ups were even planned for that month. Because apart from this mega disaster, the sandbanks were unfortunately already polluted. After the call, hundreds of people came to help clean up the coast. That was great to see. We still think it's fantastic how many people have committed to making the sea and the coast a little cleaner in the special world heritage, the Wadden Sea.

A disaster for the nature

The loss of 345 containers by the MSC Zoe right next to a natural world heritage site is a horrible disaster for the nature. A lot of garbage will float around for years. Because it involves a lot of plastic, which does not just decay. The large items remain a danger to animals. They can get stuck in it or swallow it and suffocate. Unfortunately, we often see entanglements .

Some containers had sacks full of small grains as cargo. We call these grains and other small particles that have ended up in nature microplastics. In some places, the small grains were cleaned up with large vacuum cleaners, but in many places this was not possible. Researchers from the University of Groningen have calculated that at least 24 million grains have washed ashore.

Opruimactie Zeehondencentrum Pieterburen bij containerramp MSC Zoe


To remember the disaster, artist Maria Koijck made ZOE, the Pony. Her artwork was a 4 meter high statue of a horse, inspired by the washed up My Little Ponies. ZOE stood for: “trojan horse against senseless plastic violence”. With ZOE we tried to pay attention to the problem of plastic waste in various places.

Among other things, by drawing attention to the disaster with the MSC Zoe. And by showing people that all the things that were thrown overboard are our utensils. The artwork is no longer there. But the important message remains: we can all prevent these kinds of disasters by using just a little less (plastic) stuff.

Clean-up MSC Zoe