How to reduce your impact on coral reefs while wearing sunscreen
11 JULY ‘22
Learn about the effects of your sunscreen on the coral reefs and discover with us ways you can become a more conscious sunscreen user.
Words by Mayra Trejo
The “rainforest of the oceans”
Coral reefs, or the “rainforest of the oceans”, are fragile underwater ecosystems composed of a variety of incredible species, principally coral polyps, which are soft and tiny organisms related to jellyfish and anemones.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, about 25% of the ocean's fish depend on healthy coral reefs. Specifically, “fishes and other organisms shelter, find food, reproduce, and rear their young in the many nooks and crannies formed by corals”, which means that also our food chain is based on their preservation. Furthermore, corals are not only a source of food for fish, but they also protect coastlines from erosion, all reasons that should push us to actively preserve them.
Sunscreen products and their polluting effects on coral reefs
Our oceans have been suffering from different types of pollution over the last decades, such as plastic waste and leaks of oil along with other harmful derivatives. One problem that maybe you didn’t know about concerns the huge threat to coral reefs’ health due to contaminating substances from sunscreen products.
According to National Geographic, 14,000 tons of sunscreen are thought to wash into the oceans each year, and 82,000 chemicals from personal-care products may be tainting the seas. Sunscreen therefore plays a huge role here in the coral reef’s pollution, as it is made of chemical substances such as octinoxate and oxybenzone, which can interrupt coral’s reproduction, lead to coral bleaching, and cause illness in fish and phytoplanktons, essential players in the food chain.
Picture by Chris Reyem
Here’s what you can do to decrease your impact:
1.Be careful of what you buy. When we are lacking sunscreen and we’re in a rush to go to the beach, it is important to spend a couple of minutes more to select the right product for our skin and for the environment. While looking for an eco-friendly sunscreen, we can come across products that have a “reef safe” logo in the packaging, which claim that in the production processes are not involved octinoxate and oxybenzone, heavy toxic chemicals - Hawaii even prohibits the sale of sunscreens containing those two components. This is what you need to look for.
2.Be always up to date. You can easily check SPF products’ ratings on the internet. This will help you easily recognize whether the sunscreen you selected is harming the environment or not.
3.Avoid using sunscreen in spray. These products can cause even more harm to the environment, as they can easily spread all over, both in the water and in the air. Sprays create indeed a chemical cloud that can end up impregnated in the sand and wash up into the sea.
Next time you are going to the sea and appreciate the freshness of the water, be sure to be a “reef safe” visitor and bear in mind there are fragile living organisms underwater that need all our attention and preservation.