Your sunscreen could be a vital safeguard for you, but it endangers the corals, a vital part of ocean’s ecosystem. A toxic chemical in sunscreen, oxybenzone, gets transferred to water form your body and is absorbed by corals. Oxybenzone and several other toxic chemicals in sunscreen can disrupt reproduction in corals.
That’s why Palau, the island nation around 1500 km east of the Philippines, is banning sunscreen to save its coral reefs. It has identified 10 prohibited chemicals in sunscreens. If a sunscreen contains any of these chemicals, it will be confiscated from the tourist. Shops selling such sunscreens will be fined up to $1,000.
President Tommy Remengesau Jr said in a statement that the penalties found the right balance between “educating tourists and scaring them away”.
Each year, about 14,000 tons of sunscreen gets into the oceans worldwide. Even if you don’t swim, the sunscreen will find its way into the ocean through the drain when you shower. A study by Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, a nonprofit scientific organization, prompted Hawaii to sign a legislation to ban sunscreen in July.
According to the study, toxic chemicals in sunscreen cause bleaching, deformities, DNA damage and even death in corals.
“You can have an El Niño climate change impact on a coral reef; let’s say it kills 40% of the coral. But if you have swimmers there with sunscreen pollution, you’re not going to have new generations coming in. So you’re going to see the slow decline of the coral reefs in the area.
And then you get an undersea, desolate landscape of just muck and mud and sand,” Craig Downs, a forensic ecotoxicologist and executive director of Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, told CNN.
However, critics say not enough studies have been done to know if chemicals i sunscreen harm corals. Also, a total ban on sunscreen might create health risks for many people.
There are sunscreens which are safe for corals. According to a National Geographic report, mineral-based sunblocks that use titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are safer than the oxybenzone-containing alternatives. Sunscreens with “non-nano” size particles are safer because they can’t be ingested by corals.
“Some tour companies in popular destinations like Mexico make it mandatory for visitors to wear only biodegradable sunscreen. Select Hawaiian resorts and airlines give out free reef-safe sunscreen samples that don’t contain harmful chemicals. Many of these resorts will let patrons know of these restrictions in advance or list it on their websites,” says the report.