Two years ago, a central California teen began what NPR calls a “Sisyphean task”—hauling hundreds of pounds of golf balls off the ocean floor, only to have them reenter the sea as golfers from five nearby golf courses (including Pebble Beach) hit them right back in.
Alex Weber was just 16 when she first discovered the shocking sight while free diving. “You couldn’t see the sand,” she says, noting the seafloor was “completely white” from the sheer number of balls.
And thus began Weber’s self-appointed chore of removing the balls from the water—what Golf.com calls akin to an “Easter egg hunt”—with the help of her dad, a friend, and even a scientist that got wind of her efforts. Their total haul hit the 50,000-ball mark in September, gathered in grueling, cold conditions with sharks nearby and an “aerial barrage” of new balls flying their way during the collection process.
What makes the golf ball-filled waters more than just a disturbing visual is the fact that not only do the balls contain potentially harmful zinc compounds, they’re also coated with a thin polymer layer that’s eroded over time by the rough waters. As the balls degrade, they turn into microplastics that marine creatures can ingest.
Weber’s website documents the stages of golf ball degradation, from those “fresh off the golf course” to Stage Five, when they’ve lost their paint and dimples and their cores are exposed. Weber, now 18, says she wishes the balls would float, so everyone could see the extent of the pollution. “People would be outraged,” she told Vice last summer, adding she hopes laws are soon passed holding golf clubs responsible for cleanup. (Could there be golf balls in your … hash browns?)