Taking a tropical vacation this summer to snorkel some coral reefs? Think about your sunscreen options before you dive in! Many sunscreens contain chemicals, like oxybenzone and octinoxate, that harm corals by causing coral bleaching. Hawaii has even banned the sale of sunscreens containing these chemicals beginning 2021!
What is coral bleaching?
Coral bleaching is a significant environmental issue affecting the world’s reefs. Coral bleaching happens when the coral polyps expel the algae (zooxanthellae) that live inside the coral. These relationship between the polyps and algae is very important. The algae feeds the coral and helps give it its color. If the coral becomes stressed due to increasing ocean temperatures or pollution, the coral will expel the
algae. Without zooxanthellae, the coral loses its food and turns white.
Why are corals important?
Coral reefs are a very important ecosystem because they support so many species! Biodiversity is important, because
coral reef animals and plants help develop new medicines. In addition to coral’s medical implications, it also keeps ocean animals and plants happy and healthy. Corals are also a huge source of income for tourist communities across the globe. Corals can also help protect coastline from waves, storms, and erosion by sheltering the shore from damage.
How can choosing the right sunscreen help?
The National Park Service estimates that about 14,000 tons of sunscreen enter coral reefs every year. This means that all these chemicals are directly harming the reefs.
Some ingredients to watch out for include:
- Petrolatum: AKA mineral oil, this takes years to break down and harms wildlife
- Titanium Dioxide: this mineral doesn’t biodegrade and can react with warm waters to form hydrogen peroxide which is harmful to sea life
- Oxybenzone and octinoxate: believed to cause coral bleaching
Make sure to research reef-safe sunscreens next time you’re in the market for sun protection! Also, remember hats and rash guards make for great chemical-free sunburn prevention. Check out our NESS tech tees here!