Alex Weber (Director, The Plastic Pickup) has been collecting golf balls from the waters off Pebble Beach since she was 16 years old, and has amassed an incredible stockpile of 50,000 golf balls. Alex reached out to CountercurrentArt.org to design and fabricate a large-scale wave sculpture from over 20,000 of these balls!
Ethan Estess (Director, CountercurrentArt.org) is an artist and marine scientist from Santa Cruz, California who uses reclaimed materials to tells stories about the marine environment. Ethan started Countercurrent as a 501(c)3-non-profit in 2016 to help make large-scale public sculptures that educate youth about environmental issues.
Toby and Nevin Ketchum are two brothers and good friends of Alex who are passionate about helping raise awareness of plastic pollution. Toby and Nevin will help oversee the volunteer coordination and fabrication process for the golf ball wave.
About the Project:
This sculpture will be:
Alex published a peer-reviewed scientific paper in the Marine Debris Bulletin quantifying the amount, the distribution, and the degradation process of golf balls along the coast of central California. Her study conservatively calculated a sum between 2 and 5 million golf ball off the coast of the Pebble Beach Golf Course. With this published data, the course then went forth and established a 5 year clean up protocol to reverse their environmental harm! This sculpture is a representation of what she sees beneath the water.
Audience will be able to step up into the barrelling section of the golf ball wave and experience what it’s like to get barreled in trash! Being surrounded by that many balls will hopefully bring forth a lot of questions about human impact on the ocean and prompt conversation about the issue.
We are building the sculpture on a 26ft flatbed trailer that can be towed across the country to countless events including surf contests, golf tournaments, music festivals and more. By having it on wheels, the audience is endless meaning there is no limit to the amount of people that will be influenced.
With this project we are showcasing the power of art to drive scientific messages. This sculpture will be a powerful symbol that engages people’s emotions and tugs at their heart’s strings. Presenting such a large scale representation of the underwater ecosystems will be a huge shock to many individuals that will hopefully inspire a change in mindset and behavior. Our piece will highlight two major facts about marine pollution that hopefully resonate with the audience:
- Like golf balls, 70% of plastics sink which means they are out of sight and out of mind.
- Using the various stages of worn down balls we will create a wave like pattern. This will drive the idea of marine microplastics that are lost into the ocean as the balls wear down.
How are we going to do it:
It’s going to take a village to achieve this vision!
Step1: Lead artist Ethan Estess designed the sculpture using CAD software and is working with a steel manufacturer to CNC plasma cut 8ft x 20ft sheets of 3/16” thick steel plates to create the vertical support ribs for the wave.
Step 2: We will work with Central Coast Welding and Fabrication to assemble and weld curved sheet steel to create the face of the wave.
Step 3: We will drill holes through 20,000 golf balls with the help of a volunteer army, and string the balls onto ⅛ inch diameter stainless steel rods in a color-coordinated pattern. Every 6th golf ball will be screwed securely to the steel facade of the sculpture.
Step 4: We will build two staircases with handrails to allow participants to walk up to and inside of the wave sculpture. Furthermore, we will build a reclaimed wood “skirt” to conceal the trailer underneath the wave.
Step 5: We plan to work with an muralist (TBD) to create a giant educational mural on the flat backside of the wave sculpture. Future ideas include building in a water refill station into the back of the wave to encourage festival waters to bring their reusable water bottles to events.
Step 6: Hit the road! Our first confirmed event is the Ohana Fest in Dana Point, featuring Eddie Vedder, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and many more! The sculpture will be prominently displayed in the Storytellers section of the festival alongside world re-known artists. We also look forward to events with the Johnson Ohana Foundation, one of our project supporters and partners!
In the spring of 2016, my dad (Mike Weber) and I (Alex Weber) were freediving along the central coast of California in the shallow waters adjacent to the Pebble Beach golf course, when we came across a discovery that had never been reported before. Thousands of golf balls blanketed the seafloor, and inhabited nearly every crack and crevice in the underwater and onshore environment. The overabundance of inorganic materials was overwhelming but for a second it did not phase us. As we began diving to the bottom to collect the balls, we realized what perfect freediving training it was and the whole operation felt like a fun game; we were having a blast. But soon, the enormity and vast scale of the pollution set in and it made me feel sick to my stomach. To me the ocean was a peaceful home as well as my favorite teacher, so the discovery of such a large scale underwater plastic problem both shocked me and also captivated my curiosity. What began as a day of freediving resulted in a project that has changed my life ever since.
The next dive-able day, we were underwater early in the morning equipped with mesh bags and we collected nearly 2,000 golf balls which was just the start of what grew into The Plastic Pick-Up. As we continued diving, we were not only collecting golf balls, but data too. We began to understand the benthography around the coast; each cove and collection site earned a name, each underwater fissure was numbered, and even the seals and otters became distinguishable and given names as well. We began to understand how the seasons impacted the dive-ability and where the underwater currents, swells, and tides would move the balls. We explored more, up and down the coastline and discovered new hotspots and aggregations. As the months and years went by, our golf ball collection grew and grew from the backyard, to the garage, to the shed as it became larger and larger. As of today we have collected over 50,000 golf balls and that number will continue to grow.
As the collection of balls exponentially grew I brought this matter into the hands of the corporations producing this pollution. Yet after repeated failed attempts to have a serious and productive conversations discussing a plan of action, I realized that policy change was not going to happen without documenting scientific data. This marked the start of my research study.
As a junior in high school I had basically no knowledge about writing scientific manuscripts and all the work that comes with them, and as I googled “golf balls in the ocean”, it didn’t help that the only things that would pop up were articles and news programs about myself. Luckily, Matthew Savoca a postdoctoral research at Hopkins Marine Center of Stanford University joined the fun and generously became my mentor and adviser. Throughout the year of 2017, I spent all of my free time collecting both golf balls and also data and observations. Together we translated these observations into science. We quantified the scale of the issue, both specific to hot spot aggregations at a few local golf courses, but also on a global scale. We identified distribution and ball migration patterns that allowed us to pinpoint golf ball source and sinks in the ocean, and we analyzed ball samples on a large scale and were able to calculate the amount of microplastics the balls were losing into the ocean. In all we collected over 50,000 golf balls from the ocean which is only fractional to the 2 - 5 million that our conservative calculations estimated. The process of writing research taught me an insane amount and publishing in the Marine Pollution Bulletin was very rewarding.
Next came the change; the driving force behind writing my paper was always rooted in the golf course’s reluctance to clean up their trash and as a child of the sea that really bothered me. I wrote the research paper because I knew that policy change was not going to occur without science backing it up. Once my paper became published I was able to pass it along to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary who transcribed the finding of it into a five year clean up protocol for the Pebble Beach Golf Course to follow. I am now stoked to see what kind of impact this will have on our bay. Already the Pebble Beach Golf Links has began their clean up efforts and they will continue through 2024. The golf course will be conducting over 175 underwater clean up efforts each year, as well as weekly beach clean ups. If the ecosystem does not show significant reduction in ball numbers by 2024, it will continue until data proves a success. In addition, the Pebble Beach Golf Links has agreed to an education program to add stewardship messages in the Pro Shop and on golf cards, as well as caddie education to inform all golfers of course policy.
Throughout this entire journey I have always had a vision to create an art piece to try and bring to life the plastic pollution I see beneath the ocean and when I met Ethan I knew it was a perfect fit. We are now so excited to be working in collaboration, and we are so excited for the voyage ahead of us. As we embark on this journey we are asking upon our community for the support needed to produce the most impactful piece of art possible. As our oceans continue to battle against the detrimental effects of plastic, it is important that we educate our communities of the ongoing issues it is facing. By creating this piece, we hope to not only educate but also inspire thousands of people to look out upon their community and find ways they can help create positive change. As Jack Johnson puts it, “Individual action multiplied by millions creates global change.” Here at The Plastic Pick-Up, we are a small group of individuals striving to create a ripple effect that has the ability to reach an endless audience. Our goal is to simply speak for our seas and to empower others to be the change in their community, and we hope to use this sculpture as a turning point for the health of our local and global oceans.
Follow: @theplasticpick_up and @countercurrent_art to stay up to date! And check out https://www.theplasticpick-up.org for more info about us!
- Ben Jammin
- Lily Garza Luna
- Lisa Braidech
- Sean O'Connor
Fundraising team: The Plastic Pick-Up (4)
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