Certain Sunscreens May Harm Corals

Coral reefs

You’re finally going on your Hawaiian vacation. You’re going to party the week away eating kalua pork and huli huli chicken, working on your hula moves and drinking exotic cocktails from coconuts with umbrellas sticking out of them. You’re going to go snorkeling in the crystal waters of Waikiki Beach and you’re going to hit the white sands of Honolulu running. And of course, you’re going to slather on that sunscreen. Right? Well, you may want to think again.

You know that your Hawaiian vacation would not be complete without checking out those amazing coral reefs. Not only are these beauties responsible for housing 500 species of algae which provide food and sustenance to Hawaii’s vast marine life, they’re also going to keep you hangin’ 10 by creating those big Hawaiian waves. Unfortunately, when it comes to these natural wonders, your sunscreen may be doing more harm than good.

Dangers of Sunscreen to Corals
Although sunscreen may be fully beneficial to humans, it may be anything but for the coral reef. Chemicals in sunscreens that wash off the body off beach goers wreak havoc on the precious reefs, bleaching the coral, hindering its growth, and often, outright killing it. In the aim of damage control to one of Hawaii’s most profitable natural resources, Hawaiian Senator Will Espero presented a bill to congress on January 20 that would ban sunscreens with octinoxate and oxybenzone from the Hawaiian island.

Sunscreen Harms Corals
The chemical and mineral filters in sunscreen, used to block the sun’s radiation are the most damaging to the reefs. They wash off the skin of surfers, swimmers, spear fishers, and even those using the beach showers, and find their way into the ocean. Oxybenzone, concentrations have been measured at 30 times the concentration level safe for the corals. Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources says, “(These chemicals) cause deformities in coral larvae making them unable to swim, settle out, and form new coral colonies. It also increases the rate at which coral bleaching occurs. This puts coral reef health at risk, and reduces resiliency to climate change.”

Woman on a hammock

Craig Downs, researcher on stunted coral growth at Haereticua Environmental Laboratory in Virginia says that oxybenzone “kills (coral.) It turns them into zombies if it doesn’t kill them outright. It makes them sterile and you do not get coral recruitment.”

Not Just A Hawaiian Problem
Hawaiian corals are not the only ones being endangered. In fact, about 80% of all corals in the Caribbean Sea have died within the past 40 years. Although factors such as temperature anomalies, predators, pollution from cruise ships and coastal runoffs all contribute to the endangerment, the fact the approximately 14,000 tons of sunscreen has been found to wash into the world’s ocean each year is not helping matters.

The Other Side
Of course, there are two sides to every story. Sunscreen manufacturers, such as L’oreal uphold the benefits of their products and oppose the ban claiming there is not enough supporting evidence. However, Espero rallies, ” We have advocates and science on our side. Fisherman, boat owners, ocean sports enthusiasts, ocean-tour operators, and environmentalists rely on the ocean for recreation and jobs. Opponents will be out there, but supporters as well.

What Can You Do?
If your wondering how to keep these creatures safe without risking your delicate complexion, you can check out the Environmental Working Group’s guide to safe sunscreen, but be aware that they do advise, “Sunscreen should be your last resort,” and urge you to consider long sleeved shirts, Uv blocking attire, sunglasses, shade and well time jaunts into the sun to keep exposure to a minimum.

So what do you think? To screen or not to screen? Let us know where you stand!

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