Oceans Against Sunscreen
Saving What's Ours
About the Reefs
What is a Reef?
A reef is a fringe of rocks and stony corals produced in the shallows of the oceans. The stony corals are reef builders that grow on rocks and provide additional nutrients and shelter for aquatic life. The coral reefs provide food and protection for 25% of the ocean's marine life, filling our ocean floors with color and diversity. Reefs not only provide habitats, but they boost the economy, protect our shorelines, and provide food and jobs for people around the world. So when it comes to protecting our reefs, we are protecting our own as well.
What is Happening to the Corals?
Corals were among some of the first animals on the planet. Being alive for so long, they have adapted to regrow and regenerate when faced with natural dangers. However, the corals have been disappearing at a faster rate than they can regenerate. Stony corals are tough animals made of a hard limestone and calcium skeleton that is able to withstand harsh currents or other natural threats. Although tough, they can easily be destroyed by human factors such as boat anchors and propellers, fishing nets, reckless divers, and sunscreen. Yes that's right, SUNSCREEN! The chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate kill the bacteria, zooxanthellae, living within the corals, causing them to bleach and die. One drop of sunscreen can kill six and a half Olympic swimming pools full of corals and other marine life living in the reefs. So imagine what an entire bottle can do.
Research From Dr. Craig A. Downs
This information was provided by the executive director of Haereticus Environmental Laboratory and coral researcher.
Website link to an organization he works with: https://haereticus-lab.org/
Link to Dr. Craig Downs radio talk about sunscreen study in Hawaii: https://www.hawaiipublicradio.org/news/2019-05-31/how-scientists-discovered-the-link-between-sunscreen-and-coral-reef-death
Link to Dr. Craig Downs' research paper: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0891-5849(02)00907-3
Nano-particles of ZnO and TiO₂ can be found in some sunscreens, which can be toxic to corals, marine life, and even humans. Other chemicals found in most sunscreens include Oxybenzone and Octinoxate, which can cause corals to bleach or damage their DNA, reducing their survival and reproductive abilities.
Dr. Craig found that "In November 2019, Hawaii saw coral bleach only where tourists swam. In areas that saw almost no tourism, the corals were fine. Same temperature and same water depth." Near beaches with high tourism, the reefs are under a great deal of stress due to the high quantities of the toxic chemicals found in harmful sunscreens. Zooxanthellae lives within the corals as a symbiotic relationship, providing them with additional sources of food as well as creating the bright colors that corals are known for. However, when the toxic chemicals come in contact to a coral, the zooxanthellae either flee or die, leaving the coral to turn a ghost white color (known as bleaching), and eventually die. Once a coral has bleached, it is beyond saving and can no longer provide for the reef ecosystems. If we are unable to adjust our lifestyles and use reef safe products, it is estimated that the coral reefs will disappear in a short period of time, and no amount of restoration activity will help them recover.
In order to protect our reefs, there are two major ways to stop the production of toxic sunscreens. Consumers can start to buy safer sunscreens or use less sunscreen in general, replacing sunscreen with other products like UPF swim shirts. The other way is to ban the sale of these toxic products or sue the companies that are selling said products. Other ways to help include educating yourself and others on this issue, and donating to reef restoration organizations that work to bring our reefs back to life.
How to Help
Every small change is a step towards saving our oceans.
When taking a trip to the ocean, consider the products you may be using. Look closely into the sunscreens and chemicals they contain. Avoid using sunscreens that contain active Oxybenzone or Octinoxate. Look around your local store and you may find that some bottles are labeled as "reef safe", which means they are the perfect sunscreen to purchase and use while on your beach vacation!
Alternate Protective Wear
Another way to avoid using toxic sunscreens is by limiting the use of them in general. Consider buying a UPF shirt to wear in the sun at the beach. UPF shirts not only act as a safer alternative for the reefs, but are also proven to be more UV protective. They can also save money in the long run because of the reduced use of sunscreen. Other forms of protective wear include hats, sunglasses, umbrellas, and wet suits.
Spread the Word
Now that you are educated on the issue of toxic sunscreens and the effects they have on our oceans, you can spread the knowledge to others. You could begin by simply sharing this website to your friends and family. Other ways to spread the word can include signing petitions, informing others about reef safe products, posting on social media, and interacting with organizations working to save and protect our reefs.
Download and explore the app Clearya for links and additional information on reef safe products.