Beach user perceptions of various items of commonly found beach debris were assessed with the use of a questionnaire at eight south Wales, UK, beaches during the summer of 1999 (n = 850). Photographs of each of 28 debris items were utilised as a visual aid. The perception of particular litter items was virtually universal amongst beach users with the most offensive forms of visual pollution being items that were potentially harmful (e.g. syringe, gas canister) along with items of sewage related debris (e.g. sanitary towels, tampon applicators, condoms). The least offensive debris items were found to be of 'natural' origin (i.e. seaweed, driftwood). One item of sewage related debris, namely cotton bud sticks (Q tips), attained a very low offensiveness rating. The ability to identify certain items was found to be a contributory factor in the level of offensiveness attached to litter. An average of only 2% of interviewees correctly identified cotton bud sticks (Q tips). Sanitary towels were incorrectly identified in 19% of instances, with tampon applicators being incorrectly identified 47% of the time. Items perceived to be of potential threat to health provoked a high level of offensiveness from beach users, whether there was any real danger or not. 'Sewage related debris' was found to be the most offensive 'type' of coastal pollution to beach users, with 'discoloured water' proving to be the least offensive pollution parameter.
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