Did you know that the seemingly harmless sunscreen that we use for protecting ourselves is actually harming the aquatic life?
If we look at the figures, 80 per cent of coral reefs in the Caribbean have been damaged since the last 50 years. The main reasons for this depletion are all due to human intervention: pollution and coastal development. Up to 14,000 metric tons of sunscreen settle on coral reefs every year and would you believe that it is about the weight of 3,000 elephants!
The chemical Benzophenone used in sunscreens hardens corals in the larval stage and closes them up in their own skeleton. This toxin also harms a microalga that is essential for the well-being of corals.
Due to an increase in coral reefs damaged, few countries like Hawaii and Palau have taken measures to protect the seabed. Hawaii is the first country to ban sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. This ban will be effective from January 1, 2021.
Following the footsteps of Hawaii, another small island, Palau also banned the selling of sunscreens that are not reef friendly. Palau is known to have the largest marine reserves across the world.
When our sunscreen comes in contact with water, substances like oxybenzone are absorbed. These substances act as a barrier to coral reproduction and growth.
When you swim with sunscreen on, chemicals like oxybenzone can seep into the water, where they’re absorbed by corals. These substances contain nanoparticles that can disrupt coral’s reproduction and growth cycles, ultimately leading to bleaching. We do know that sunscreens help in preventing skin cancer, we can’t stop using it. But, there are ways that can help us deal with the problem of coral depletion:
- Using biodegradable sunscreens that also result in less pollution. Such sunscreens are reef-friendly.
- Wearing hats, shirts, and apparels that protect you from UV rays and result in using less amount of sunscreen usage.
- Taking an umbrella or a beach tent or picking a shady spot on the beach.
The National Park Service encourages tourists to use products that are reef-friendly. Although no sunscreen has proven to be completely reef-friendly, sunscreens that contain titanium oxide or zinc oxide have proven to be harmless for corals.
How do you plan to prepare yourself for the next beach vacation? Hope you would bear this information in mind.