Alex Weber and Jack Johnston, both 17, are co-founders of The Plastic Pick-Up, a non-profit committed to keeping plastics pollution, especially golf balls, out of the ocean. The two friends have removed over 21,000 golf balls in the past year from the seafloor below Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links.
Alex Weber and Jack Johnston, both 17, have been named national winners of the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes for co-founding The Plastic Pick-Up, a non-profit committed to keeping plastics pollution, especially golf balls, out of the ocean.
With their Fore the Ocean program, the two friends have removed over 21,000 golf balls in the past year, equivalent in weight to 147,000 plastic grocery bags, from the seafloor below Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links. They are partnering with The Pebble Beach Company, The Monterey Bay Aquarium, and The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to implement monthly underwater golf ball clean-ups and weekly beach clean-ups.
Weber and Johnston are also working with a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researcher to draft a scientific manuscript, with the hope of publishing their data. Their long-term goal is to create policy that will regulate and enforce the environmental impact of golf courses along our coasts and watersheds.
The two began their work after discovering thousands of golf balls while freediving in the Carmel Bay near their home. Concerned about the balls’ impact on marine life, they learned that after a ball’s outer plastic layer breaks down, its rubber band core unravels into what looks like dried seagrass, which may be mistakenly eaten by birds and sea life. Further, golf balls with a solid core contain zinc acrylate, which is known to be highly toxic to aquatic organisms.
“When we talk to local kids, we tell them to speak up and be heard because adults care about what we think,” said Weber.
The Barron Prize was founded in 2001 by author T.A. Barron and was named for his mother, Gloria Barron. Each year’s 25 Barron Prize young heroes reflect the great diversity of America. They are female and male, urban and rural, and from various backgrounds. Many of them have focused on helping their communities and fellow beings; many others have focused on protecting the environment.
“Nothing is more inspiring than stories about heroic people who have truly made a difference to the world,” said Barron. “And we need our heroes today more than ever. Not celebrities, but heroes—people whose character can inspire us all. That is the purpose of the Gloria Barron Prize: to shine the spotlight on these amazing young people so that their stories will inspire others.”