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Last Updated: Monday, 11 June 2007, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
Plastic blights Hawaii's beaches
By Matt Wells
BBC News, Hawaii

Landscape shot of Hawaiian beach
Hawaiian beaches have a reputation for their beauty
From even a short distance away, the beaches of Hawaii are everything you imagine them to be: crested turquoise waves crashing down onto pristine, golden shores.

In the resort areas of Oahu, and on the crowded sands of Waikiki - near the state capital of Honolulu, you can stretch out a towel and run your toes through the fine, sun-baked sand to your heart's content.

But try that on a more remote beach just a few kilometres to the east, and chances are you will be in for a nasty shock. Small, sea-worn pieces of plastic lie everywhere on the sand's surface, and buried just below it.

"I'm from Australia, and I thought Hawaii was this unspoilt, beautiful paradise. I was just totally shocked when I saw all this trash everywhere," says Suzanne Frazer, who is one half of the locally-based duo who recently founded Beach - short for Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign, Hawaii.

'Up to volunteers'

They have been attracting dozens of volunteers to show up and clean the windward-side beaches that have been the worst affected by the scourge of "marine debris".

"We don't just get everyone out there with a garbage bag... we do educational presentations both before and after," says Suzanne. Her environmentalist partner, Dean Otsuki, says the Hawaiian authorities should be doing more to help.

"We were hoping (they) would pitch in and run their cleaning machines up and down the beach," he says. But the privatised service only covers city parks, and the rest is up to volunteers from the local community, he added.

The couple showed BBC News some examples of just how widespread the problem has become.

Rubbish collected on Hawaiian beach
The beaches are often littered with plastic debris

Synthetic rubbish from both sides of the Pacific - South-East Asia and South America - is washed up daily, and they even found a plastic crate where a piece of coral had begun to grow, and later died.

The problem has not escaped the federal authorities. A few years ago the agency responsible for America's oceans' policy, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), established a Marine Debris Program, which has two full-time officers on Hawaii, including Hawaiian-born Carey Morishige.

She has been working hard to bring diverse groups together across all the islands, to tackle the problem collectively.

"We're in the centre of what's called the North Pacific sub-tropical gyre, which is several currents that rotate around," she says. Hawaii acts as a kind of natural magnet for thousands of tonnes of non-biodegradable rubbish from all over the ocean.

"We can clean up debris for generations into the future, but what we're looking at doing more now, is to stop it at the source," she adds.

Local solutions

In other words, it is becoming more a question of international diplomacy - persuading governments who have the power to stop big sea polluters to intervene.

But meanwhile, some local solutions are being found to turn unwanted rubbish, into something useful.

The HPower waste recycling facility is located in the heart of Hawaii's only industrial park.

Carey Morishige
Carey Morishige has been working hard to address the problem

It is here that a highly successful scheme for breaking down large quantities of netting - dumped in the ocean by the fishing industry - has been running for several years now.

Hawaiians from all walks of life gather the netting and bring it to HPower, as waste-processing manager Rick Sandry explains: "About 100 tonnes of this netting material will power about 43 homes for a year.

"Almost everybody here has families...doing this type of effort, helps keep the beaches clean, so that they can still enjoy the ocean."

And the islands' most notorious thrill-seekers of all are also joining in. The Surfrider Foundation is made up of professional and amateur surfers who want to save their sporting environment for those yet to come.

Among the biggest victims are the albatrosses of the outer Hawaiian islands, which have been ingesting plastic pieces, and even inadvertently feeding them to their young.

"They die of starvation and dioxins that leak into their systems," says Crystal Thornburg, a professional surfer.

"We want our beaches and our oceans cleaned...or else future generations aren't going to see the beautiful species we get to see now," she says.

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