You may have seen a thing or two in the news recently regarding Hawaii’s ban on chemically based sunscreen. The state passed a bill that will prevent the sale of sunscreen containing common UV-filtering ingredients, such as oxybenzone and octinoxate. Why is this important? Because both have been linked to coral bleaching. When guests are out snorkeling during one of our catamaran charters, we always encourage them to use Reef Safe sunscreen.
We know that reefs are suffering at the hands of global climate change due to rising ocean temperatures, as the stress of warm water causes corals to bleach. In addition, scientists now say that chemically based sunscreen can induce the same bleaching response in coral. Studies have shown that oxybenzone and octinoxate are found in over 3,500 sunscreen products, including household names like Tropicana, Banana Boat, and Coppertone. When corals absorb these chemicals, they have a similar reaction as they would if surrounding water temperatures were to get too warm. In addition, the presence of these chemicals in sea water allows viruses to thrive, putting corals at high risk of catching an infection that could lead to bleaching and death.
Areas such as Oahu’s Hanauma Bay off the coast of the Hawaii, sees close to a million tourists each year, which makes it highly susceptible to sunscreen-induced coral bleaching. In 2015, a nonprofit based out of St. John surveyed a popular beach on the island, estimating that with 2,000 to 5,000 swimmers using the beach daily, over 6,000 pounds of sunscreen would be deposited into the reef annually. And with tourists swimming, diving, and snorkeling on only a small portion of the world’s reefs, the pounds add up.
What can you do to help?
While there is still a lot of work to be done in order to save fragile coral reefs, our individual choice to purchase reef-safe sunscreen can be of huge help! And the good news is, there are plenty reef-safe options on the market for consumers to choose from.
WHEN YOU’RE SHOPPING FOR REEF SAFE SUNSCREEN, HERE ARE SOME KEY THINGS TO LOOK FOR:
Choose mineral based sunscreen with the active ingredients ZINC OXIDE and TITANIUM DIOXIDE Sunscreens made with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are mineral-based, so rather than being absorbed like traditional sunscreen, the particles of these ingredients sit on top of the skin and block harmful UV rays. These ingredients are less harmful to corals and are not linked to coral bleaching. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the only “safe and effective” active ingredients.
Indication that ingredients are “non-nano” In order for mineral sunblocks to leave corals untouched, they must be “non-nano”, meaning the ingredient particles must be above 100 nanometers in size so that they cannot be ingested by corals.
Avoid these active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene or nanoparticles. Research confirms these chemicals are harmful to our marine ecosystems. The chemicals damage coral DNA and larvae, contribute to coral bleaching, and affect the health of algae, fish, shellfish, urchins, and marine mammals.
Be careful with “reef-safe” sunscreen labels! Sadly many sunscreens labeled as “reef -friendly” or “reef-safe” actually aren’t. Always check the active ingredients to be sure.
By wearing as much protective clothing as possible (hats, sunwear shirts and rash guards, wraps, board shorts etc.), then applying limited amounts of reef-friendly mineral-based sunscreens where needed, we can all help coral and marine ecosystems flourish and remain healthy for the future.