Sunscreen killing reefs and lagoons

Monday November 02, 2015 Written by Published in Environment
Sunscreen killing reefs and lagoons

Daily sunscreen use is essential to protect against sunburn and skin cancer, but it may be killing local lagoons and reef systems.


New research finds that a common chemical in sunscreen lotions poses a big threat to the planet’s corals and coral reefs, and it could all start with a single drop. 

Oxybenzone, a chemical found in 3500 brands of sunscreen worldwide, can be fatal to baby coral and damaging to adults.

Scientists explained that a person spending a day at the beach might use between two to four ounces of sun-block if reapplied every two hours after swimming, towelling off or sweating a significant amount. 

Oxybenzone pollution mainly occurs in swimming areas, but it also occurs on reefs five to 20 miles from the coastline.

Multiply this by the number of swimmers in the water and a serious risk to the environment emerges, they warned.

The highest concentration of Oxybenzone is found around coral reefs popular with tourists, particularly those in Hawaii and the Caribbean.

The study has helped to explain why scientists aren’t seeing baby corals in many established reefs in resort areas.

Oxybenzone alters coral DNA, makes coral more susceptible to potentially fatal bleaching and causes baby coral to encase itself in its own skeleton and die, according to the study.

Between 6000 and 14,000 tonnes of sunscreen lotion winds up in coral reef areas each year, much of which contains Oxybenzone.

The damaging effects could be seen in the equivalent to a drop of water in six and a half Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Outside of coral toxins, the Environmental Working Group had previously raised concerns .

The study was undertaken by an international research team that conducted the study, led by Craig Downs, and published in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.

Shannon Saunders from CITC pharmacy says they currently stock about 16 Oxybenzone-free products.

She says it is important that people understand the role Oxybenzone may be playing in destroying reefs and coral in order to make better choices when purchasing sunscreen.

“We will definitely be making an effort to try and bring in as little of the Oxybenzone sunscreen as possible, and sell more which are free of the chemical.”

As a big corporation in the Cook Islands, Saunders says they are always trying to lead the way and make the best decisions they can for the environment.

Ministry of Marine Resources’ Dorothy Solomona says they hope to promote that people make the right choice to preserve nature so it stays pristine for our enjoyment.

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