The use of chemical sunscreens are threatening Our Ocean, killing our coral reefs. Oxybenzone, found in more than 3,500 sunscreen products worldwide, can be detrimental to living coral in concentrations as small as 62 parts per trillion — the equivalent of a single drop of water in six-and-a-half Olympic-sized swimming pools. ... Measurements taken in 2011 found concentrations of the chemical in Hawaii waters of between 700 parts per trillion and as high as 19 or 20 parts per billion. ... as of this year, the levels, at least in Maui, are sky high.
The use of oxybenzone-containing products needs to be seriously deliberated in islands and areas where coral reef conservation is a critical issue. Any small effort to reduce oxybenzone pollution could mean that a coral reef survives a long, hot summer, or that a degraded area recovers. Everyone wants to build coral nurseries for reef restoration, but this will achieve little if the factors that originally killed off the reef remain or intensify in the environment."
–Dr. Craig Downs, alum University of Hawaii at Manoa; Executive director / researcher of non-profit scientific organization Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Virginia
In the Caribbean, which used to boast some of the most spectacular formations, 80 percent of the corals are gone. It is there that tourism is the economic cornerstone and thus, chemical sunscreen residues are suspected of being a major causative factor. Some Caribbean Island states are belatedly contemplating banning the harmful sunscreens. They should have taken their cue from the European Union, which has ordered oxybenzone use to be phased out for environmental reasons. Natural variations tend to be more expensive for manufacturers to produce and consumers to purchase. Whatever the increased tab might be, it is a small price to pay for contributing to survival of coral reefs and their invaluable niche in the global ecosystem. Hopefully, all segments of society will see it that way -- and soon.
Researchers found that oxybenzone, a common UV- filtering compound, is in high concentrations in the waters around the more popular coral reefs in Hawaii, and the Caribbean. The chemical not only kills the coral, it causes DNA damage in adults and deforms the DNA in coral in the larval stage, making it unlikely they can develop properly. The highest concentrations of oxybenzone were found in reefs most popular with tourists.
Many people are unknowingly using sunscreens that damage corals. Unfortunately there’s so much misinformation and little regulations on the terminology. You will often see words like “natural”, “eco safe” or “reef safe” in the name or description of very toxic products, which can mislead consumers. Some brands add minerals or organic ingredients into the mix and tout those, distracting from dangerous active ingredients.
Below is a list of cautionary ingredients not allowed in many eco-marine reserves. This is because they have a negative effect on corals from damaging DNA to bleaching. Unfortunately one or more is in over 90% of sunscreens on the market: