Sunscreen Effects on Coral Reefs

If you visit the ocean, you probably apply a sunscreen topical to your skin to protect yourself from UV rays that emit from the Sun. If you go for a swim in the water, the suntan lotion will come off and become part of the Ocean mixture. Even if you stay on land, you eventually shower off these products and where do they eventually end up? That’s right. Our Oceans! It’s no secret that Coral Reef pollution has been an increasing problem worldwide in the recent decades due to rising water temperatures from Climate Change, bacterial diseases and even pollution. In fact, over one fourth of the world’s Coral has been lost. (NOAA, Coral Reefs, p.1, 2019). However, have you ever thought about how these UV protection products effect our Coral Reefs?

About Reefs

Reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems found in the world and is home to an assortment of abundant different marine life. These shallow water reefs we are looking at have a partner relationship with a photosynthetic algae (zooxanthellae) that live inside the Coral’s tissues where they receive a protected environment and the nutrients needed for photosynthesis. The Zooxanthellae provide oxygen to the Coral and produce carbohydrates that the Coral uses for food. Coral Reefs protects our shores and acts as a barrier from storms and surge water and also provides protection to the animals who have made their homes inside/on the reef. Reefs also provide nutrition for 500 million people worldwide and are important to people all over.  (NOAA, Coral Reefs Ecosystems, p.1, 2019).

“About 25 percent of all marine species are found in, on, and around coral reefs, rivaling the biodiversity of tropical rainforests” (NOAA, Coral Reefs, p.1, 2019).

2008 study – The 1st Study

The first study was done in 2008 and evaluated the effects of sunscreen ingredients on coral and their zooxanthellae by introducing varied amounts of sunscreen ingredients into the water. These experiments were conducted in Indonesia (Celebes Sea), Mexico (Caribbean Sea), Thailand (Andaman Sea) and in Egypt (Red Sea) where Coral Reefs grow.  Within all of these sites, large amount of coral mucus was expelled resulting in total bleaching within 96 hours. The bleaching occurred quicker in coral that were in a higher temperature. Microscopic observation of treated corals revealed a loss of membrane and photo-synthetic pigments within the Zooxanthellae, and visually were pale and transparent. The control Corals showed zero change during the entire experiment. It was found that Oxybenzone and Octinoxate are the 2 main ingredients that cause harm to the Coral resulting in bleaching. “All these results indicate that sunscreens have a rapid effect on hard corals and cause bleaching by damaging the symbiotic zooxanthellae.” (Danovaro, p.1, 2008).

Recent Action

In the last 11+ years since the first study was conducted, more evidence has come into light that ingredients in sunscreen effect Coral Reefs and Marine life. For instance, in Palau, “a 2017 study that showed sunscreen was found in the country’s famous Jellyfish Lake, which was closed for a year due to dwindling numbers of jellyfish” (DiLonardo, p.1, 2019). Passing a bill in 2018, Hawaii is the first State to ban the SALE of Sunscreen containing Oxybenzone and Octinoxate which will be in effect by January 1, 2021 (Zachos, Rosen, p.1, 2019). Other areas of high tourism will hopefully follow close behind, Like Key West, FL who passed a bill with similar verbiage that will be in effect as law around the same time as Hawaii. Since the ban is only for the SALE of products with these chemicals, you can still bring those products into the area for use. The ban of these sunscreens in high tourist areas such as Hawaii, Florida, Australia, etc. is not enough. We need to cease the use of these chemicals worldwide to protect not only ourselves but our Oceans around the globe.
There are sunscreens that have been created without these harmful chemicals which advocate for healthy Reef life.
Also, there are Coral Farms where healthy Coral is planted in a natural habitat to restore devastating reefs.

This terrible bleaching phenomenon does not completely kill Coral right away, it is a stress response that can lead to death. The good news is, “Coral communities typically take 15 to 25 years to recover from mass bleaching. The assessment looked at the frequency with which World Heritage reefs have been subjected to stress that exceeds best-case rates of recovery” (UNESCO, p.1, 2017). This is a long time I know, but if we work together, we can do our part to save the reefs!

Whether its Coral Reefs or your own Aquaculture harvest, Aqua Ultraviolet cares about the health of your water.

Want to learn more about keeping your water healthy and clean? Contact Aqua Ultraviolet today!

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Sources and further readings:
NOAA, Coral Reef Ecosystems, 2019

NOAA, Coral Reefs, 2019

Danovaro, Sunscreens Cause Coral Bleaching By Promoting Viral Infections, 2008

Zachos, Elaina and Rosen, Eric. What Sunscreens Are Best For You-and the Planet?, 2019

UNESCO Centre, Assessment: World Heritage Coral Reefs Likely To Disappear By 2100 Unless Co2 Emissions Drastically Reduce, 2017

DiLonardo, Why Your Sunscreen Is Bad For Coral Reefs, 2019

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For over three decades, Aqua Ultraviolet has been the premier manufacturer of ultraviolet sterilizers and bio-mechanical filtration.

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