Not everyone knows that there is a connection between sunscreens and the disappearance of corals. Indeed, there is one, and your sunscreen affects the health of our coral reef.
The National Park Service in the US notes that each year 4,000 to 6,000 tons of sunscreen enter the reefs, thanks to people using it before jumping in the water. Research shows that common sunscreen ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate can be harmful to the delicate underwater ecosystem. It’s not surprising that corals don’t like chemicals thrown at them.
But what can you do?
One solution for this problem has been found by Hawaii’s legislature. They banned the sale of sunscreens containing those chemical ingredients in the hopes of protecting the world’s reefs. State Senator Will Espero, who introduced it, urged the state to act quickly to protect the 410,000 acres of living coral reefs that surround the Hawaiian islands. The reef needs all the help it can get as increasing water temperatures have bleached over two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef alone.
But if we don’t use sunscreen, we will have real risks to get sunburned when enjoying a swim, so what do you do then?
First off, carefully consider what sunscreen you buy before using it when swimming in the ocean. Choose a mineral sunscreen with titanium oxide or zinc oxide as active ingredients. It has not been found to harm the coral reefs, according to the National Park Service. As an alternative, you can also cover your upper body with long sleeve shirts/rashguards to reduce sunscreen use.
Also, read the label. A product advertising itself as “reef safe” doesn’t necessarily mean what it says. Always look at ingredient lists to make sure reef-damaging substances (such as oxybenzone, butylparaben, octinoxate and 4-methylbenzylidine camphor, all of which have been shown to cause coral bleaching even at low levels) aren’t included.
It’s true, sunscreen is not the single reason why coral reefs are disappearing. There are other causes such as pollution, overfishing and climate change. However, making an informed decision when buying sunscreen for your next vacation, surely doesn’t add to the problem.