Rodríguez, C., Fossatti, M., Carrizo, D., Sánchez García, L., Teixeira de Mello, F., Weinstein, F., Lozoya, J. P. 2020. Mesoplastics and large microplastics along a use gradient on the Uruguay Atlantic coast: Types, sources, fates, and chemical loads. Science of the Total Environment 721, 137734 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.137734
Plastic pollution is a global problem with great local and regional variability. Plastic litter reaches beaches directly and indirectly through different pathways, due to both terrestrial and marine pressures. In this study, we assess and characterize meso and microplastic pollution on four Uruguayan oceanic beaches along a gradient of tourist use within a complex regional coastal marine system. In Punta del Diablo we found a total mean density of 106 items m−2 of different debris (pellets, fragments, and foams) with different polymeric compositions, and diverse persistent bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals (PAHs, PCBs, OCs, heavy metals). However, the trend of plastic debris densities along this gradient was not what was expected. Fabeiro, one of the sites furthest from the urban center, had the highest total mean density of plastics (292 items m−2) suggesting that marine influences (winds, currents, and beach orientation) have a preponderant role in the distribution of micro and mesoplastics. Meanwhile, the density in the urban site (Pueblo) was highest during summer (March, 201 items m−2), 200 times higher than the density observed in winter (July, 1 item m−2). Although this difference could be associated to the peak season (southern summer), the analysis of types of plastics (171 pellets m−2 vs. 8 cigarette butts m−2) suggested a predominance of marine inputs. Seasonal changes in the configuration of the beaches due to natural geomorphological dynamics imply alternating states (Source or Sink of debris) that also affect the final density of plastics in the system. The relative importance of both sources is highly variable throughout the year and understanding them may directly improve beach management and stranded coastal plastic litter cleaning.