The Key West City Commission on Tuesday, January 15, 2019 unanimously voted to ban the sale of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, two ingredients that a growing body of scientific evidence says harm coral reefs.
The measure which passed 7-0 is not law yet. The commission must review it a second time and pass the measure again before it would become law. The second vote is scheduled for Feb. 5, 2019.
Nearly 100 people turned out for the debate, and 50 people including dermatologists, boat captains and schoolchildren signed up to speak on the proposal.
Commissioner Mary Lou Hoover said the sunscreen debate reminds her of sex and pregnancy prevention, since different practices including condom use and abstinence have a percentage of effectiveness, just as clothing, sunscreen and shade can help minimize the risk of skin cancer.
Environmental researchers have published studies showing how these two ingredients, which accumulate in the water from bathers or from wastewater discharges, can damage coral reefs through bleaching and harming the corals’ DNA. In some instances, the corals can die.
A February 2016 study in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology examining the impact of oxybenzone in corals in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands concluded that the sunscreen ingredient “poses a hazard to coral reef conservation and threatens the resiliency of coral reefs to climate change.’’
A team of researchers and students are planting branches clipped from a coral nursery off Key Biscayne.
Last year Hawaii banned the sale or distribution of any sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, a measure that will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021. It was the first state in the nation to implement such a ban.
On October 25, 2018 Palau, a collection of hundreds of coral and volcanic islands about 890 km east of the Philippines signed into law a bill to ban on the sale and use of sunscreen and skincare products that contain a list of ten different chemicals, including oxybenzone and octinoxate to ban "reef-toxic sunscreens" under the Responsible Tourism Education Act of 2018.
In Florida the website for the South Florida Reef Ambassador Initiative, which falls under the state’s Department of Environmental Protection tells divers to “Avoid sunscreens with Oxybenzone and Avobenzone. The benzones are compounds that are lethal to coral reproduction in very small amounts.”
Experts who have studied the issue say sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which are minerals, also block ultraviolet rays. They create a barrier on the skin that deflect the sun’s rays .
A study published last year in the American Academy of Dermatology acknowledged that there is “emerging evidence that chemical sunscreen ingredients” could affect coral reefs.
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