In late March, at the start of quarantine, Pascal Weisberger began visiting Harry Harris park with his father, Ariel Poholek, with a pandemic-inspired idea for his science project. The “budding young environmentalist,” as his dad calls him, wanted to compare the effect of a coronavirus shutdown on the amount and types of trash found washed up on the shoreline. Knowing boating was down, he hypothesized that what he found during a closure would be different and possibly identifiable as originating from outside of the Keys.
“Environmental issues were very important to Pascal, but plastic debris was something he took a particular interest in,” Poholek told the Weekly. “Three years of science fair projects were focused on plastic pollution, and he spoke publicly about it at the Key West City Council meeting to advocate for the elimination of single-use plastics. It’s unusual for a kid his age to care about issues to that level and put himself out there publicly to care like that, but he knew that change can only happen if people decide to take actions.”
Now, Poholek and the scouts roam where Weisberger did, through three different marked sites at Harry Harris Park for plastics, metals, styrofoam, wood, etc. They sort, weigh and catalog what they find.
Using Weisberger’s initial measurements from before the shutdown, the troop has built on the dataset by going every Friday to the park to take measurements to see how human influence on the environment changes during a pandemic.
Aidan Austin, 15, in particular, felt like he had to continue the project because it was something his friend cared about deeply. Both he and Pascal loved science, and the former wanted to ensure this last experiment could be completed in his friend’s memory.
“I thought that I could accomplish something by doing it for him,” Austin said. “But, in and of itself, it’s very interesting data. It shows the current state of humanity and how we’re affecting the environment. Maybe it can tell us something about how we’re treating our environment because of how our environment is healing while we’re in peril.”
Zack Woltanski and Jordan Lubis, both 14 and fellow scouts, said their reason for taking up the project was simple: “We’re his good friends, and it is an honor to carry on his legacy.”
Woltanski estimated that they pick up four to five pounds of trash each week. Lubis said they mostly find plastic, which was not surprising. After the collection and sorting, the troop will analyze the data against big timelines in the county, such as the shutdown, roadblocks being removed, boat ramps being closed, etc.
They don’t know yet when they will stop, but do note that it makes them feel closer to their friend.
“It makes me miss him, but I think Pascal would be happy that we’re continuing his project because we’re joking around and being stupid while doing it, like we used to,” a smiling Austin said. “Messing around, doing the things kids do, having fun with our friends, like kids do. Like he’d want us to.”
Poholek added that anything he does with this group of scouts makes him feel closer to his son because of the mutual affection and respect that they had for Weisberger.
“I know a lot of what drives the scouts who were close to Pascal, and that they always think of him and reflect on what he would think of what we were doing,” Poholek said. “I can’t think of a better way to represent Pascal and what he is in my heart than to still be involved with our troop and carry on with the causes he loved most.”