Hawaii recently passed a bill that would ban all sunscreens that harms coral reefs by 2021, and now everyone is talking about “coral reef safe sunscreen”. Interested in learning more? We've got you.
Astonishingly, it is estimated that nearly 14,000 tons of sunscreen is washed off of swimmers' bodies into the oceans each year. Many beaches in the Caribbean, Hawaii, and other tropical zones are home to both beautiful beaches and coral reefs, meaning that sunscreen frequently comes into contact with coral and reef fish in these areas. Coral feed on tiny organic particles that float through the water, and therefore consume particles of sunscreen that are floating in the water as well. Reef fish are affected by the chemicals flowing both through their digestive tract and gills.
Many modern sunscreens use chemicals to block the sun's rays, the main one being oxybenzone. While these chemicals are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and are effective at blocking the sun's harmful rays from your skin, they are small enough to be considered nano-particles (less than 100 nano-meters) and therefore are small enough to be eaten by coral. Below is a link to a very detailed study from Environmental Health Perspectives detailing how these chemicals affect coral. In short, many chemicals in sunscreen when consumed by coral promote viral infections and can kill them, also known as coral bleaching. This process can be very rapid (within days) with only very small amount of the chemical(s) present in the water.
Study: Sunscreens Cause Coral Bleaching by Promoting Viral Infections by Danovaro, et al.
The key to finding coral reef safe sunblock is making sure the active ingredient is either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and that the ingredients do not include oxybenzone or other chemicals known to bleach coral ( Good Cubed’s full list of Coral Reef Safe Ingredients). Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide have been shown to not be toxic to coral even though in most cases they are still small enough to be eaten by them.
Although we only sell coral reef safe sunscreen at Good Cubed, we created a preference for it as one of our filters, with the hope that it will help spread awareness and better inform our visitors of things to look out for when shopping for sunscreen.
Check out: Coral Reef Safe Sunscreens
Every little bit helps! So as summer ramps up, remember all those little coral and reef fish before hitting the water. Coral reef safe sunscreen is safe, effective, and good for both your skin and the environment!