Healthy coral reefs are one of the most valuable ecosystems on Earth. They provide billions of dollars in economic and environmental services, such as food, coastal protection, and tourism. However, coral ecosystems around the world face serious threats from a number of sources, including climate change, unsustainable fishing, land-based pollution, coastal development, disease, and invasive species.
The study conducted on sunscreen chemicals destroying coral reefs was published in The Journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. The Study found that the chemical oxybenzone has toxic effects on young coral that causes endocrine disruption, DNA damage and death of coral, among other problems.
Scientists have also discovered that some of the chemicals found in sunscreen and other personal health products threaten the health of coral reefs. How these, and other compounds, affect reef ecosystems remains an active area of research. Researchers are reviewing the environmental impacts of sunscreen ingredients as part of a National Academy of Sciences study expected to be completed in 2022. NOAA will review this study when it is available and update the information presented in this article as warranted.
Infographic Transcript: Sunscreen Chemicals and Marine Life
How sunscreen chemicals enter our environment: The sunscreen you apply may not stay on your skin. When we swim or shower, sunscreen may wash off and enter our waterways.
How sunscreen chemicals affect marine life:
Green Algae: Can impair growth and photosynthesis.
Coral: Accumulates in tissues. Can induce bleaching, damage DNA, deform young, and even kill.
Mussels: Can induce defects in young.
Sea Urchins: Can damage immune and reproductive systems and deform young.
Fish: Can decrease fertility and reproduction and cause female characteristics in male fish.
Dolphins: Can accumulate in tissue and be transferred to young.
Chemicals in sunscreens that harm marine life include: Oxybenzone, Benzophenone-1, Benzophenone-8, OD-PABA, 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor, 3-Benzylidene camphor, Octinoxate, Octocrylene.
Hawaii signed the first bill in the U.S. to ban the sale of sunscreen chemicals that are toxic to coral reefs and marine life. In addition to Hawaii, Thailand, Palau, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Mexico, Bonaire, Aruba & Key West, Florida have all banned some or all of these ingredients!
Nano-Titanium dioxide and nano-Zinc oxide are also harmful to marine life.
Coral can consume any particles smaller than 100 nanometers, so it's essential for mineral sunscreens to be formulated with only non-nano zinc oxide and non-nano titanium dioxide. If a sunscreen has tiny mineral nano particles, it will clog the corals' pores, leading to coral bleaching. Nanoparticle mineral sunscreens are just as harmful as chemical ones.
Even though the active ingredients are the primary focus, the inactive ingredients should not be disregarded.
Don't be fooled by the label "reef-safe"!! Sunscreens with the "reef-safe" label may still contain harmful chemicals.
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