Only a few weeks ago NOAA found that coral reefs face the threat of bleaching and no longer being able to develop. Now, new research pinpoints sunscreen to affect coral reefs.
While sunscreen is recommended by all health agencies for its protective properties against harmful UV radiation, one ingredient in our lotions seems to bring serious negative effects to coral reefs at the global level. Sunscreen is a must if we want to keep the risk of melanoma and other skin conditions at bay.
However, oxybenzone, the chemical compound found in the majority of sunscreen lotions is hastening the process of coral bleaching. The research has been published in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. Environmental scientists headed out to Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands in order to gather data on coral reef health and development.
These locations are very popular with beachgoers and sunbathers. After collecting data and samples from the coral reefs of these regions, the research team found that the water is laden with oxybenzone. The chemical acts as an efficient UV radiation blocker. However, when washed away in the ocean, it affect the reefs by polluting the environment, infiltrating the organisms and disrupting growth. In the press release accompanying the research findings, the scientists declared:
“The chemical not only kills the coral, it causes DNA damage in adults and deforms the DNA in the coral in the larval stage, making it unlikely they can develop properly”.
Algae blooming on the reefs is also hampered, which leads to the bleaching effect. Moreover, without healthy reefs, the rich biodiverse ecosystems built around the reefs also suffer. What the scientists found is that it isn’t even necessary that a large quantity of sunscreen oxybenzone washes away in the ocean to inflict damage. It is sufficient that a small quantity ends up near the coral reefs to affect them.
Annually, an estimated 14,000 tons of the organic chemical compound ends up in the ocean. Present in the majority of sunscreens as an efficient UVA blocker and UVB blocker (albeit in a smaller percentage), oxybenzone also reaches the ocean via wastewater streams.
The research pinpoints sunscreen to affect coral reefs globally. While the data was collected in densely populated regions, the researchers stated that it isn’t only this type of regions where coral reefs are affected by oxybenzone polluting the water. 80 percent of the coral reefs found in the Caribbean region have already been damaged.
Against this background, it is necessary that significant action is taken to give coral reefs a chance to recover, as well as to step up conservation efforts. Curbing oxybenzone use is possible. It would also have a major impact on conserving the fragile ecosystems. If you’re looking for an oxybenzone-free sunscreen, the Environmental Working Group has a well-researched list of alternatives.
Photo Credits: Pixabay