Scientific Evidence Showing Chemicals Cause Damage to Coral Reefs
A compound commonly found in sunscreens has been shown to cause serious harm to corals,
and the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) is asking people who enter the ocean to avoid using sunscreens which contain oxybenzone.
Recent studies have shown that oxybenzone causes deformities in coral larvae (planulae), making them unable to swim, settle out,
and form new coral colonies. It also increases the rate at which coral bleaching occurs. This puts coral reef health at risk, and reduces resiliency to climate change.
Besides damaging coral, oxybenzone may have negative effects on human health. Oxybenzone and two other sunscreen chemicals, octinoxate and homosalate, have all been shown to cause disruptive reproductive system effects, due to their hormone-like activity. Oxybenzone and octinoxate have also been associated with moderate to high rates of skin allergy.
According to Anderson, “The only way you can know whether a sunscreen contains oxybenzone is to read the label. Some sunscreens may claim to be ‘reef safe’, but there is no agency which regulates that kind of claim. You really have to look at the ingredients.”
At the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve on Maui, NAR specialist Jeff Bagshawhas made sunscreen outreach a priority. He’s created cards to pass out to visitors who frequent the snorkeling spots there. The cards listsunscreen chemicals in addition to oxybenzone which some scientists believe may have negative impacts on corals.
He and his volunteers try to talk to everyone who pulls into the parking lot to encourage them to begin only using products with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active sunscreens.