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Suzanne Frazer and Dean Otsuki

In 2005, Suzanne Frazer and Dean Otsuki began walking along Waimanalo Beach as a way to reduce stress. But they found they couldn’t get far without encountering tiny blue and white plastics, or larger debris such as deteriorating fishing baskets and buoys. Shocked, they called city and state agencies, trying to figure out which entity was responsible for cleaning the beach.

“I got a complete runaround,” Frazer recalls. “Nobody said it was their department.”

Frustrated by the lack of response, they returned to the beach every day for the next several months, spending hours each day picking up debris.

“The marine debris, it just comes in all the time,” Otsuki says. “You pick up this one stretch, and then you look back over your shoulder and there’d be more stuff that had come in.”

They started nonprofit Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii (B.E.A.C.H.) in 2006 to raise awareness and bring solutions to the issue of marine debris. It is run by volunteers, primarily Frazer and Otsuki, who spend up to 70 hours a week on B.E.A.C.H.

Frazer and Otsuki explain that marine debris is plastic (mostly) that has been in the ocean. Marine life may get tangled in debris or ingest plastics, and could end up starving to death as a result. The debris also is dangerous to humans, as fish that ingest plastic containing chemicals may end up on our plates.

B.E.A.C.H.’s work includes environmental education, such as presentations to schools and hosting leading scientists; marine debris removal and research; and plastic reduction and litter prevention, which includes promoting the use of reusable shopping bags and utensils and supporting related legislation.

In celebration of Earth Month, B.E.A.C.H. is hosting “POPs, Plastic and Hawaii’s Marine Life,” a free public lecture series on chemicals called persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the ocean. Remaining lectures are from 6:30 to 8 p.m. April 22 and 29 in the UH Manoa Architecture Auditorium.

“The word POPs isn’t in everyday language, like global warming is,” Frazer says. “It absolutely needs to be, because the most terrible problem of marine debris is that plastic absorbs POPs, and these are dangerous, toxic chemicals.”

The consequences of inaction are illustrated in the condition of the Big Island’s Kamilo Beach, where B.E.A.C.H. has conducted debris cleanups.

“You get out of the car and you step straight on to not sand, but plastic,” Frazer says. “Every time I have been to Kamilo I felt absolutely sick and nauseous and upset that humans did this. And I felt the same on Waimanalo Beach, too … That is why we did this – why we stopped our careers, why we have worked for no money,” she adds. “Somebody had to do something, and quickly. That is how desperate the situation is.”

For more information or to become a B.E.A.C.H. member, call 393-2168 or visit b-e-a-c-h.org.