Did you know that 1 drop of chemical sunscreen can kill an entire coral reef? Yup. As a South Floridian who spends lots of time in the ocean slathered in sunscreen, this is an alarming fact and the main reason I made the switch to coral safe sunscreen.
Conventional Sunscreens Damage Coral Reefs
In a 2015 scientific study published by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), scientists discovered that 4 commonly used sunscreen ingredients were shown to bleach, kill and even damage the coral’s DNA. Chemical sunscreen is so toxic to corals that even 1 drop of this stuff is enough to kill an entire coral reef. Now imagine the damage the reportedly 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotions discharged every year into coral reefs is doing… tsk, tsk, tsk.
The chemical sunscreen ingredients proved to harm coral reefs are:
- 4-methylbenzylidene camphor (4MBC): Allowed in Europe and Canada, not in USA or Japan
To check if your current sunscreen contains toxic ingredients, check out your sunscreen here!
Coral Reefs Are Important Ecosystems
Coral reefs cover less than 1% of the ocean’s floor but is home to 25% of all marine life including mammals, fishes and invertebrates. Healthy coral reefs provide:
- Habitat: Coral reefs provide breeding, spawning, nursery and feeding grounds to thousands of organisms
- Food: Coral reefs provide food for thousands of species as well as humans living near them
- Protection: Coral reefs protect shorelines by acting like a buffer from currents, waves and storms preventing loss of life, property damage and beach erosion
- Income: Coral reefs sustain several industries (i.e. fisheries, tourism) and provide millions of dollars in revenue and thousands of jobs around the world
- Medicine: Coral reef provides scientists with raw materials to create new treatments for illnesses and diseases
It is in our best interest to keep coral reefs healthy. Don’t you think?
Coral Reefs Support Local Economies
Coral reefs provide local economies with food and jobs. A healthy coral reef system can sustain a local economy by supporting commercial fisheries and generating jobs through tourism and recreation. The United Nations estimated that the total economic value of coral reefs range from US $100,000 to $600,000 per square kilometer per year. The Florida keys alone are estimated to have an asset value of $7.6 billion! (Johns et al., 2001)
Coral Reefs Take Long Time to Rebuild
Coral reefs are build by free-swimming coral larvae who attach themselves to any underwater rock at the edges of islands or continents. When they die, they leave a skeleton made from calcium carbonate. This skeletons provide the building blocks for what we call coral reefs. Over hundreds of years, calcifying algae glues the many pieces of coral together creating massive structures like the great barrier reef and even islands. The process of building a coral reef is slow and can take up to 10,000 years for a coral reef to form from a group of larvae (Barnes, 1987). Corals polyps can add between 0.2 to 8 inches per year depending on the species. For example: the thickest reef in the world, Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands, is estimated to have taken 138,000 and 176,000 years to form.
How to Switch to Coral Safe Sunscreen
Making the switch to coral safe sunscreen is easy. First thing you can do is to look at the ingredients of any chemical sunscreen before buying it. Avoid sunscreen with Oxybenzone, Butylparaben, Octinoxate and 4MBC. Choose instead a water resistant sunscreen with zinc oxide. Zinc oxide is a mineral sunscreen ingredient that can be found easily in nature. Although there are no “reef-safe” tests, there is no evidence that zinc oxide can harm coral. When washed off, Zinc oxide will not dissolve in seawater but rather will sink in the sea floor to become part of the sediment. There are many reef-safe sunscreens already available in the market. My favorites from all the coral-safe brands I tried are:
In conclusion, coral reefs are important and so is sun protection. As of right now, it is reported that we have lost over 80% of the coral reefs in the Caribbean due to warming oceans and the use of Oxybenzone-based sunscreens. That’s a lot of food and jobs that we’ve lost! Fortunately, we do not have to compromise. Making a switch to coral safe sunscreen is easy by choosing coral safe and biodegradable sunscreen ingredients. Follow my philosophy: If it is not found in nature, don’t use it.
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