Teen Diver Finds Thousands of Golf Balls Along California Coast

Oceanfront golf courses are a ubiquitous sight around the world, offering stunning views while people play through the fairways. But it turns out that they have a dark side, as a young diver discovered when she was exploring the waters off the shore of California.

Alex Weber found a trove of balls that had gone astray sitting in the ocean, leaching harmful chemicals and endangering marine life. In the course of two years, she found 50,000 golf balls from five courses.

If that number sounds mind-boggling, this video gives you a sense of what that actually looks like on the ocean floor, with curious seals weaving between vast drifts of balls:

Weber told NPR that even as she’s out collecting golf balls, more are pouring in from careless golfers on shore. With the help of scientist Matt Savoca, she gathered and quantified data, ultimately publishing these findings in “Marine Pollution Bulletin,“ and bringing the world’s attention to this issue.

Seeing the sea floor littered with golf balls is bad enough. As Weber pointed out to NPR, if golf balls floated, people would probably be outraged about the pollution – after all, no one wants to see a bobbing sea of balls just offshore. Unfortunately, they sink and degrade, releasing microplastics into the ocean. In addition, compounds used to make golf balls can include toxic chemicals that leach into the ocean as they break down, harming marine life.

In the grand scheme of things, golf balls are not a huge source of ocean pollution, but they illustrate how seemingly harmless things can add up; products that we treat as disposable because they’re cheap, easy to make and hard to chase down when we lose them are steadily accumulating in the environment.

And this particular form of plastic pollution should be very easy to eliminate; we just need to change the behavior of the people who are creating the problem.

The phenomenon of losing golf balls in the water is so ubiquitous that golf ball diving is actually a career. These trained divers specialize in descending into water traps to clean out the accumulated golf balls, which they resell. They can make a tidy profit, highlighting how many of the one billion golf balls produced annually end up in the environment. The decision to let golfers casually pollute is pretty problematic, especially given how easy it would be to change.

For example, golf courses could install better netting to prevent balls from entering the ocean or watersheds; some of the golf balls Weber found clearly traveled down rivers and streams and into the ocean. Courses could also get more aggressive about educating golfers and pushing them to keep track of their balls and dispose of them responsibly.

Everyone understands that sometimes balls go rogue and it’s hard to find them, but creating mechanisms to keep them out of the environment shouldn’t be too big of a challenge — especially since some oceanfront courses happen to be in the very same communities that have been extremely aggressive about straw pollution.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, biodegradable golf balls do exist.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

50 comments

Jan S
Jan S2 months ago

thank you for sharing

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Knud T
Knud T2 months ago

Thank you for sharing

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Thomas M
Thomas M2 months ago

thank you

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Catherine Z
Catherine Z2 months ago

thank for sharing

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Catherine Z
Catherine Z2 months ago

ty

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Dr. Jan H
Dr. Jan H2 months ago

Thanks for the info.

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Lorraine A
Lorraine A2 months ago

It all adds up as they say. A little bit here and a little bit there and pretty soon we have a big bit of plastic in the oceans as we do now!

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Berenice G
Berenice Guedes2 months ago

This is very awful!!!

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Anette S
Anette S2 months ago

All this is due to the reason that the principle "out of sight out of mind" seems to predominate. The lack of respect for mother nature and all her creations destroys our shared biosphere.

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Fred L
Fred L2 months ago

Golf, in general, just isn't good for the environment. Golf courses demand heavy water usage, and the pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides they use find their way into the ecosystem. They may be the largest patches of green in an urban environment, but I'd rather see passive parks.

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