Ever since his newspaper debut in 1978, the lasagna-loving and lackadaisical comic strip cat Garfield has been a ubiquitous presence in popular culture. Thousands of licensed products, a series of movies, and animated shows made him famous. Garfield’s creator, Jim Davis, even admitted he set out to create a character that would be easy to market.
That ambition backfired in a big way for the people living near the Iroise coast in Brittany, France. For decades, plastic telephones shaped like Garfield have washed ashore. Some arrive complete; others are in fragments. In 2018, more than 200 pieces appeared on the beach.
The reason was a mystery—until the spring of 2019. According to the BBC, anti-litter activists from France’s Ar Viltansou group mounted an awareness campaign drawing attention to the waste on the beaches, which sit at the Iroise Marine Nature Park.
The press caught the attention of a local farmer, René Morvan, who told Ar Viltansou president Claire Simonin-Le Meur that a raging storm in the 1980s led to a shipping container full of the phones being freed from a cargo ship. The container settled into a sea cave, where it remained mostly hidden. Morvan and his brother waded out to investigate and discovered the stash.
Acting on the information, representatives from Ar Viltansou and the Franceinfo media outlet set out to find the container during low tide, which was buried and surrounded by a number of the phones. The novelty items were said to be in incredible condition given the water and their age, with the paint mostly intact. Inside the phones, activists discovered starfish threaded between cables and crabs making their homes.
While the smoking gun was found, it did not do much to resolve the waste issue. The container is mostly inaccessible and it’s unknown how many more Garfield phones still linger. Worse, no one is quite sure if there’s not another container somewhere out there, prepared to deposit a seemingly inexhaustible supply of Garfield phones in perpetuity.