Fore the Win

“We’ll clean out a cove and go back two weeks later, and it’s full again,” Alex Weber, left, says of her golf ball cleanups with Jack Johnston, right.

Toward the one-minute mark of the YouTube video “Fore the Ocean,” a scene shows the seafloor off of Pebble Beach. Beneath the swaying seaweed, hundreds of golf balls are nestled in the sand.

Toward the end of the four-minute video, text in the frame reads: “We always wondered why somebody didn’t do something about this… and then we realized we are somebody.”

The video was posted last week by Carmel High School junior Alex Weber, who along with her friend Jack Johnston, a fellow Carmel High junior, captured the footage over the summer with two GoPro cameras.

Through free diving and beachcombing, Weber and Johnston collected more than 4,000 golf balls last summer, and brought the issue to the attention of the Pebble Beach Company, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Weber first became aware of the issue when free diving with her dad two years ago. It wasn’t until May that she started cleaning up the balls, and collected 115 pounds of golf balls in one day with help from her dad and another friend.

“After that, it kind of set the fire,” Weber says, adding that the cove they cleaned up this summer is only about the size of four small rooms.

“People are amazed,” Johnston adds. “No one knows about it.”

They do now: As highlighted in the video, the exterior of the golf balls are made of hard plastic, which breaks into smaller pieces over time – which fish eat – and exposes a core than can also be toxic to marine life.

Denise Klein, Weber’s mother, got in touch with officials at the marine sanctuary and Pebble Beach Company, who then contacted the Aquarium to ask if their divers could help assess the extent of the problem. As early as this week, pending weather conditions, a team of professional divers will set out to find the answer.

“Alex and Jack were the first to bring it to our attention,” says Mark Stilwell, a VP at Pebble Beach Company.

Going forward, Pebble Beach Company and sanctuary officials will try to devise a solution to the problem, but given that errant golf shots are inevitable, that promises to be challenging.

“Cleanups are not really proactive, they’re dealing with an aftermath,” says Karen Grimmer, the sanctuary’s resource protection coordinator. “For us, that’s not really a long-term solution.”

But both Grimmer and Stilwell praise Weber and Johnston for bringing attention to the problem.

“What great creativity and passion they show,” Stilwell says. “They want to make a difference in the world.”

Weber and Johnston will both head to the Island School in the Bahamas for the second semester of the school year, and have set up a GoFundMe page – “Fore the Ocean” – to help fund their tuition.

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