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Diver removes amazing sum of golf balls off Pebble Beach in study

For The Win logo For The Win 1/18/2019 David Strege
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Alex Weber, an avid freediver, was 16 years old when she and her father were diving alongside Pebble Beach Golf Links and made an alarming discovery: Thousands of golf balls littering the ocean floor.

"You couldn't see the sand," she told NPR. "It was completely white [with golf balls]. You looked down and you're like, 'What are you doing here?' It felt like a shot to the heart."

From that day forward, Weber began the endless task of removing golf balls from the ocean and her efforts prompted a research study, a website called The Plastic Pick-Up and eventually a scientific paper published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 140, March 2019.

Over two years, Weber, now 18, her father, a friend and Stanford University scientist Matt Savoca (who helped Weber with the paper) hauled out more than 50,000 golf balls from the ocean in Monterey, California.

The sources for the golf balls were errant shots by golfers at Pebble Beach and Cypress Point. Balls hit into the Carmel River from Quail Lodge and Golf Club, Carmel Valley Ranch Golf Club and Rancho Canada Golf Course traveled downstream and into the ocean where Weber's team collected them as part of the study.

a pile of fresh produce sitting on top of a building: File Photo © File Photo File Photo

Not surprisingly, the hotspots at Pebble Beach were alongside the 18th hole and a little slot beneath the 8th hole, and next to the 15th and 16th holes at Cypress Point.

On a typical outing, they'd collected between 500 to 5,000 golf balls, Weber told FTW Outdoors.

"The main point that people should be aware of is that every decision and action you make has an effect, whether it is something that effects you or not," Weber told FTW Outdoors. "I always say that if golf balls floated this would not be an issue because people would be so disturbed about the amount of trash in our bay, but only people that go beneath the ocean are aware of the issue.

"Just because we can't see the golf balls from shore does not mean they are not there. This misconception has allowed for a hundred years of golf balls to pile up in our gorgeous marine sanctuary and if we cannot change this, a million of more balls will enter the ocean."

a duck in the water: File Photo © File Photo File Photo

More from NPR:

In the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, the team notes that golf balls are coated with a thin polyurethane shell that degrades over time. They also contain zinc compounds that are toxic. Savoca points out that the surf and currents act like a rock grinder and break down the golf balls. While chemicals from 50,000 or so golf balls will have only a small effect on the ocean, Savoca says they do degrade into microplastic pieces that marine animals could eat. The team also notes that there are lots of coastal golf courses around the world, so this may go beyond California.

Savoca told FTW Outdoors that golf balls are almost certainly not a major source of marine trash in the ocean on a global scale, but "that doesn't mean it's not a problem on a local scale, or that [Weber's] work is unimportant…Golf balls have additives that are toxic to marine wildlife, so removing these balls from the ocean is a critical task that Alex is spearheading…

a group of assorted doughnuts on a table: File Photo © File Photo File Photo

"Her work is important not just because she is cleaning up her local ocean and ameliorating a previously unknown environmental issue, but also because she shows us that anyone, at any age, can make a difference."

Photos courtesy of Alex Weber.

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