Stranger tides: Treasure, plastic and circumnavigating rubber ducks

7.00pm to 8.30pm, Monday 16 September

The Theatre

The Royal Institution of Great Britain GB United Kingdom W1S 4BS 21 Albemarle Street London

This event has already taken place

  • On stranger tides – ocean currents carry a wide range of man-made materials both accidental and purpose made. The St KildaIslanders used to make wooden messenger boats, with a sheep’s bladder for flotation, in order to send messages to the mainland. This method was used till the island was evacuate in the 1930s.

    Credit: ©Royal Museums Greenwich


Standard £16


Concession £10


Ri Members, Ri Patrons and RMG Members £7

Event description

What is the difference between flotsam and Jetsam? Do the rules of ‘finders keepers’ apply to items found on shore? (Spoiler alert – No!). Why is there so much plastic in the ocean and what can we learn from the humble rubber duck? All of these questions and more will be answered during a lively panel debate.

This event is part of the contemporary maritime series in partnership with the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. The next talk, 'Unspoilt World? Arctic geopolitics and modern exploration' is on the 2 December 2019.

About the speakers

Helen Czerski is a physicist, first and foremost, but she’s acquired a few other labels along the way: oceanographer, presenter, author and bubble enthusiast. She was born and brought up near Manchester in the northwest of England, and spent her childhood playing by the canals and along the old railway routes of the early Industrial Revolution. Maths and science (especially physics) always felt as though they would be her focus in the long term, and she studied Natural Sciences (Physics) at Churchill College, Cambridge, finishing with a first class degree. A year later, she returned to Cambridge to study for a PhD in experimental explosives physics, motivated by the opportunity to use high-speed photography to explore the physical world further.

You can watch an animated video voiced by Helen about the secrets of the ocean floor, or delve into why we need to talk about physics, both on our Ri YouTube channel.

Bob Marsh is a physical oceanographer, interested in how our restless oceans shape the world around us. Brought up in landlocked Staffordshire, annual seaside holidays endured in his memory. Also fascinated by the weather, he first studied Physics & Meteorology at the University of Reading before moving on to Oceanography, at Bangor in North Wales. Nowadays, he is Professor of Oceanography & Climate at the University of Southampton. Using a combination of measurements and computer simulations, some of his studies concern the drift of objects as diverse as sea turtle hatchlings, volcanic pumice and icebergs. Most recently, he has been studying the drift of Sargassum seaweed that has inundated the Caribbean and west Africa since “something changed” in the equatorial Atlantic around 2011.

Lauren Biermann is a marine biologist who used to work with data collected by tagged southern elephant seals. Somewhere along the way, she fell in love with how beautiful the ocean looks from space, and is now a converted marine satellite scientist. After several rewarding years working for the UK government, she moved back into research and teaching at Plymouth Marine Laboratory. Her work using satellite data to detect plastics floating on the ocean surface has kicked off exciting collaborations with partners all over Europe, and she's looking forward to sharing this research with you.

Beccy Austin was the Deputy Receiver of Wreck for the UK for over a decade, part of a small team of two responsible for administering the law on wreck and salvage.  She has been fascinated by the sea and shipwrecks from an early age and after studying for an MSc in Marine Environmental Protection at Bangor in North Wales, she took up the role as Deputy Receiver at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency developing an expertise in wreck law and advising on maritime heritage issues.  Counting silver ingots, finding the owners of 19th Century marble busts, dawn raids and disposing of Royal Fish on behalf of The Crown formed part of her “ordinary” work.  She continues to work in the maritime heritage sector and carries out wreck research, advises on finds and wreck and salvage law.

Megan Barford is Curator of Cartography at Royal Museums Greenwich, which has one of the most important collections of maritime-related cartography in the UK. Ranging from the 15th century to the present day, it includes, charts, maps, globes, atlases and even a printing press. Her interest in map history developed during research on the Admiralty Hydrographic Office in the earlier-19th century, and since moving to Royal Museums Greenwich she has enjoyed engaging with the myriad stories which surround the map collections there. 


The doors will open at approximately 6.30pm, with a prompt start at 7.00pm.

Latecomers will be admitted to the gallery.


This event will be filmed and on the Ri's YouTube channel within a few months. Subscribe for free to hear when new videos are released.


The theatre is on the first floor and there is step-free access from the 

The theatre is on the first floor and there is step-free access from the street via lift.

The closest underground station is Green Park, which is step-free.

There is space at floor level in the theatre for wheelchair users.

Seating is usually unreserved for our events. If you and your group require seating reservations, please do let us know by email and we’ll be more than happy to help. Email:

Carers can receive a free ticket to an event by emailing

Our theatre is equipped with an Audio Induction Loop and we are delighted to announce that this event will feature BSL interpretation. If this is useful to you, please email to allow us to reserve you a seat near the front.

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