Coral safe sunscreen Credit: Mexitan.com

Coral safe sunscreen
Credit: Mexitan.com


All that sun block being slathered on by beach-goers around the world is causing major damage to ocean corals.  A new study by the University of Central Florida reveals that the mix of 20 chemicals in even one drop of sunscreen can severely damage fragile coral reef systems.

The study was done in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Hawaii and Israel and confirms research done a few years ago by Italian scientists in waters of Mexico, Indonesia, Thailand, and Egypt.

The World Trade Organization reports that 10 per cent of world tourism takes place in tropical areas, with nearly 80 million people visiting coral reefs each year.

The most widely used sunscreen ingredient –oxybenzone  – leaches coral of its nutrients and the tiny algae that live within coral colonies and provide its colors. The studies showed that complete bleaching of coral occurred within 96 hours. It can also disrupt the development of fish and other wildlife.

Some 14,000 tons of sun blocking lotions wind up in coral reefs around the world each year. The studies  estimate  that up to 10 percent of the world’s coral reefs are at risk of ‘death by sunscreen.’

But damaging sunscreen from beachgoers is just part of the concern. Anytime people wear the lotions, it ends up in the waterways when they step into the shower to wash it off,  just like harmful chemicals in household cleaning products that are washed down drains and into the sewage systems.

As a result, some local businesses have started to ban the use of harmful sunscreen in their waters. In some areas of Mexico known for its reefs and sea turtles, visitors are warned against wearing sunscreen and are restricted to certain areas to prevent too much disruption of reef life.

The U.S. National Park Service for South Florida, Hawaii, U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa recommend using “reef friendly” sunscreen made with titanium oxide or zinc oxide, which are natural mineral ingredients.

Alaska’s deep sea corals are safe from sunscreens, but they do face threats from ocean acidification. Alaska’s corals don’t need light or algae to grow and acquire nutrients directly from the water column.  And unlike tropical varieties, Alaska corals don’t form reefs – they grow into dense gardens and can live for hundreds of years.  The waters surrounding the Aleutian Islands are believed to be home to the most abundant and diverse coldwater corals in the world.

Find the sunscreen and corals study in the U.S. Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives.

Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods.  Ocean Beauty has contributed over 10 million meals to the U.S. Food Bank network and is committed to ending hunger in America. www.oceanbeauty.com      In Kodiak, I’m Laine Welch.

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