On most trips to the beach or on the water, we apply at least one layer of sunscreen. Have you ever thought about what happens to the sunscreen when we get in the water? The majority of sunscreens we use are chemical sunscreens that utilize synthetics such as oxybenzone and octinoxate. This compound is detrimental to the corals, fish, and other oceanic inhabitants. Even the smallest amounts of sunscreen possess the potential to cause great damage because they can lead to the production of other chemicals in the ocean. It has been documented that fourteen thousand pounds of sunscreen comes in contact with the coral reef each year. The damage of sunscreen is most profoundly seen in populated reefs such as Hawaii and the Caribbean.
Recently, the production and selling of chemical sunscreens have been banned in certain areas, including the Florida Keys, Hawaii, Bonaire, and Palau. If stores in these areas are caught selling these products, they can be inflicted with fines reaching a thousand dollars. This is being to done to preserve the integrity of the remaining coral reefs around the world to allow for the growth and development of new corals.
So what sunscreen should we use? There are “reef-safe” sunscreens being developed that utilize natural ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium oxide. These are labeled as mineral sunscreens, rather than chemical. Though it is always important to read the label for the active ingredients in the sunscreen, this will prove whether it is truly reef friendly. It is also more eco-friendly to choose a sunscreen option that is a lotion, rather than a spray due to the inhalation of possible chemicals. As well as one that comes in reusable or biodegradable packaging.
When going out in the sun try to wear protective clothing such as long sleeves or hats to avoid unnecessary sun exposure. Remember, once the coral reefs are gone, it is nearly impossible to bring them back to life. It is up to us to preserve the reefs that are left by doing everything we can. Take the first step and change to a reef friendly sunscreen, the coral reefs, and its inhabitants will thank you.
Written by Kayla O’Donnell