Plastic flotsam

This plastic toy was found on a deserted beach in Sarawak, Borneo.

Many questions arise about it.

Is it a cat? It does have a tail, to be sure, but it also has an anthropomorphic face, and the stripes might be a swimwear fashion statement.

Whatever it is, is it female? It is pink, and it is graceful; we may give her the benefit of the doubt.

She seems to be about to dive into water, and one interpretation of her clothing, if that is what it is, is that it is some kind of wetsuit. However, her hat, a mini bowler with a long tassel attached, does little to improve her streamline.

She is poised on a stand that might be clipped into a larger part of a toy, perhaps a diving platform by a pool.

So much for conjecture; the fact is that none of the above can be asserted with confidence.

We need to consider several further questions about her, so it will be convenient to give her a name. Bearing in mind her catlike appearance, we shall call her Felice.

Felice was found very far from a major city and away from immediate estuaries, so it is likely that she drifted from a long way off. She has an oriental appearance, despite her French name, and we might consider that Japan or Taiwan are likely places for her manufacture. Further, given her ready identification with the Orient, she is not so likely to have been made with export to the West in mind. This raises the probabilty that as well as being made in the Far East, she was also lost in the Far East.

Where and when was she made? Who owned her, and how did that person lose her? Did someone decide to discard her? Did she enter the sea currents through loss at a seaside resort, or through erosion of an area used for dumping? Was she transported down a river? Might it be that, created to dive, Felice was allowed to do so by a sympathetic owner?

Felice poses questions that are unanswerable. A robust effort might discover where, when, and why Felice was manufactured, within certain frames of time and geography. We could post her image on websites frequented by Japanese and Taiwanese youngsters, and perhaps one day one of these might recognise her and be able to give an account of her. We might then find out why she wears that hat and what she plans to do. But such information, valuable as it would be, would not help us to discover the personal history of this very Felice, who had a particular specific owner whom it is, surely, impossible ever to identify. Still less would it help us to reconstruct her journey that ended on a sandy beach in Borneo. Essentially, Felice is an unsolvable mystery.

What sadness there is in that! We can never know Felice’s personal history. Even if we researched the currents in the South China Sea, and thereby found out that Japan was a credible source, and even if this theory were supported by some finding such as that large numbers of artefacts traceable to Japan were to be found on the Northern coastline of Borneo, it remains possible that Felice was lost somewhere quite different, and that she remained pelagic for decades, endlessly nearly missing the shores of landfall – perhaps even bypassing Borneo itself more than once. How many oceanic fish have meditated eating her? Have any indeed done so, later to die and sink to the sea bed, decomposing to the extent that Felice was finally free to rise again to the surface? And how many birds, or monitor lizards, have inspected her as she lay on the beach, attracted by her pink contours?

In general, of course, we must deplore the laxity that causes marine pollution by plastics, with its serious effects on wildlife. Better by far if all such flotsam could be sieved out and recycled. Until that day, however, plastic items randomly cast up onto beaches worldwide are a gesture of significance amidst chaos, and a source of the most tantalising speculation.

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