The first thing we do when we head to the beach is grab our shades, a good book, beach towel, and sunscreen. We often don’t think twice about reapplying a thick lather of SPF before taking a dip in the waves and that could be causing some long term trouble for coral reefs, according to recent research. A 2015 study of North Kona and South Kohala reefs conducted by the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii and other partners found a rate of 32 to 90 percent mortality rate in bleached coral colonies. Globally, coral is constantly combating habitat destruction, climate change, and ocean acidification, but the effects of sunscreen on coral polyps are more serious than previously thought. Residents and visitors alike slather on the sunscreen before hitting any of Hawaii’s world-renowned beaches, and some of the same chemicals preventing us from a nasty sunburn are efficient coral killers. Some studies suggest, worldwide, as much as 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotions end up in coral reefs. Why does that matter?Jeff Bagshaw of the DLNR (Department of Land and Natural Resources) explains the impacts of sunscreen on coral by saying, “If someone showed up and dumped a barrel of chemicals into the ocean, you’d call the EPA.” Oxybenzone is a common ingredient in 3,500 types of sunscreens and has been linked to coral bleaching and sterilization. This chemical lowers the coral bleaching threshold (increasing the likelihood of an unhealthy reef system), causes deformities in juvenile coral polyps, and disrupts hormone levels. It is believed to impact the development of other marine life, as well. The problem is that oxybenzone can be found in other products commonly used on a daily basis (nail polish, make-up, etc.). A label that claims to be “Reef Safe” cannot necessarily be trusted, because there are currently no regulations for such products’ impact on coral health. The most effective way to recognize a potentially eco-friendly sunscreen is to read the ingredients and avoid the following:
Some other simple steps for helping save the reefs you enjoy are:
Opt for a rash guard or legging instead of sunscreen to prevent against harmful UV
Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before going into the water so it can be thoroughly absorbed into the skin
Choose waterproof or zinc oxide sunscreen as an alternative
Looking for natural for earth-friendly sunscreens? Try Maui Surfer Honey Natural Sunscreen, Joshua Tree Reef Safe Sunscreen, or Biodegradable Reef Safe Sunscreen Lotion.Next time you’re ready to join us for a beautiful day at the beach, remember we each play an important role in keeping the oceans healthy so we can be sure to enjoy them for many more years to come!