Surfers, swimmers, scuba divers, paddle boarders, sailors, kite surfers, water skiers: This one is for you.
A common ingredient found in sunscreen is toxic to coral and contributing to the decline of reefs around the world. Oxybenzone, a UV-filtering chemical compound found in 3,500 brands of sunscreen worldwide, can be fatal to baby coral and damaging to adults in high concentrations.
Researchers estimate that 4,000 to 6,000 metric tons of sunscreen wash off swimmers annually in oceans worldwide, and that up to 10 percent of coral reefs are threatened by sunscreen-induced bleaching.
Why do we need to worry about the coral reefs?
- They provide valuable habitat for fish and other animals, all of which play a unique and vital role in marine ecosystem
- Algea that live in healthy coral reefs produce oxygen, which we need to breathe
- Coral reefs are an important food source for the people who live near reefs, and, as nurseries, are vital to the world’s fisheries.
- Many of the compounds used in human medicines, including some that treat cancer, are found on coral reefs, with probably many more yet to be discovered.
- They generate income from tourism
- They act as natural barriers against storm events like hurricanes, typhoons, and even tsunamis
- The annual value of the ecosystem services provided by coral reefs to millions of people is estimated to be over $375 billion.
The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) provides some practical suggestions for coral reef safe sunscreen:
- Buy a natural product (organic and biodegradeable etc)
- Look for a brand that uses physical sunblocks such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide instead of chemical ones
- Read the label. A product advertising itself as “reef safe” doesn’t necessarily mean what it says. Reef-damaging substances include
- 4-methylbenzylidine camphor
- Apply sunscreen at least 10-15 minutes before going in the water so that the lotion absorbs into your skin.
Toxicopathological Effects of the Sunscreen UV Filter, Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3), on Coral Planulae and Cultured Primary Cells and Its Environmental Contamination in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands (Downs, C.A., Kramarsky-Winter, E., Segal, R. et al. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol (2016) 70: 265. doi:10.1007/s00244-015-0227-7)