Beaches are social-ecological systems that provide several services improving human well-being. However, as one of the major coastal interfaces they are subject to plastic pollution, one of the most significant global environmental threats at present. For the first time for Uruguayan beaches, this study assessed and quantified the accumulation of plastic and microplastic debris on sandy beaches of the major touristic destination Punta del Este during the austral spring of 2013. Aiming to provide valuable information for decision-making, we performed a detailed analysis of plastic debris, their eventual transport pathways to the coast (from land and sea), and the associated persistent pollutants. The results indicated that the smallest size fractions (<20 mm) were the dominant size range, with fragments and resin pellets as types with the highest number of items. PAHs and PCBs were found in plastic debris, and their levels did not differ from baseline values reported for similar locations. The abundance of plastic debris was significantly and positively correlated with both the presence of possible land-based sources (e.g. storm-water drains, beach bars, beach access, car parking, and roads), and dissipative beach conditions. The analysis of coastal currents suggested some potential deposition areas along Punta del Este, and particularly for resin pellets, although modeling was not conclusive. From a local management point of view, the development and use of indices that allow predicting trends in the accumulation of plastic debris would be critically useful. The time dimension (e.g. seasonal) should also be considered for this threat, being crucial for locations such as Uruguay, where the use of beaches increases significantly during the summer. This first diagnosis aims to generate scientific baseline, necessary for improved management of plastic litter on beaches and their watersheds.
Keywords: Beach management; Microplastics; POPs; Plastics; Punta del Este; Uruguay.
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