Left vs. Right— Shoes at Sea

Sneakers, sandals and flip flops! Oh, my!

During our local beach cleanups, LMC’s Conservation Department finds all types of shoes scattered about our shores.

In our ongoing research to discover why and how certain debris items end up on our shoreline, we uncovered some interesting findings when it came to footwear.

In studies on ocean flotsam, referred to as “flotsametrics,” floating sneakers have provided important information on ocean currents based on their shape, size and buoyancy. In fact, researchers report that sneakers tend to float upside down with the soles exposed to the ocean surface. In this position, water flows around the soles and tends to direct them so that left shoes go one way and right shoes another.

Right and left sneakers are not only thought to be sorted by ocean currents, but they tend to end up on different beaches. Left shoes have been reported to predominate in Galveston, Texas, whereas rights are mostly found in the North Sea of Shetland Islands. Just north of us, a dozen rights have been reported for each left in Cocoa Beach, Florida.  

In May 1990, a storm south of Alaska sent 61,000 shoes swirling into the Pacific Ocean from a container ship.

Shortly after, hundreds of shoes were washing up on Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia beaches.

The Science of Washed-Up Shoes

Palm Beach County Beaches – Right or Left?

We encourage our citizen scientists to conduct their own “flotsametric” research on left vs. right shoes and let us know your findings! For more information, check out Flotsametrics and the Floating World (2009) by C. Ebbensmeyer and E. Sciglano.       

To learn more about this flotsametric