Soon after it left the Port of Oakland, California, in February 2004, the shipping vessel Med Taipei hit a strong winter storm with violent 30-foot-high (9 meters) swells. Amid rolling waves, 15 shipping containers came loose and toppled overboard, sinking to the icy seafloor inside the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
Just four months later, scientists surveying the seafloor with an underwater robot found one of those lost containers nearly 4,200 feet (1,300 m) below the surface. They turned their chance discovery into an opportunity to study how aquatic life reacts to deep-sea pollution.
Ninety percent of the world's goods are transported by ship, and inevitably hundreds, maybe thousands, of containers fall overboard each year. Lost containers have caused some strange objects from Legos to hockey gloves to wash ashore on beaches around the globe. The Med Taipei container was transporting 1,159 steel-belted car tires. But not all containers hold such innocuous goods. Some carry batteries, pesticides and industrial chemicals that could be toxic to marine life. The boxes themselves might even be made of hazardous materials. [Photos: Trash Litters Deep Seafloor]