While sunscreen is important to protecting us from the sun’s harmful rays, some ingredients are harming the environment. For this reason, the Hawaiian legislature is doing something about it. A bill that will forbid sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, which contributed to the death of coral reefs, gained almost unanimous vote.
This is a first-in-the-world law, said Sen. Mike Gabbard, who introduced the bill. “So, Hawaii is definitely on the cutting edge by banning these dangerous chemicals in sunscreens. When you think about it, our island paradise, surrounded by coral reefs, is the perfect place to set the gold standard for the world to follow. This will make a huge difference in protecting our coral reefs, marine life, and human health.”
A study published in Environmental Contamination and Toxicology informs us that 14,000 tons of sunscreen ends up in coral reefs each year. The nonprofit Haereticus Environmental Laboratory studied a famous snorkeling spot in Hawaii and found that there were 2,600 daily visitors, who left in the ocean 412 pounds of sunscreen. Coral reef damage can occur even with trace amounts of chemicals: only one drop of oxybenzone.
How do these chemicals affect coral? The 2015 study in Environmental Contamination and Toxicology found that oxybenzone causes a deformity in coral larvae. This makes them remain trapped in their skeletons and unable to spread across the ocean. The chemicals also damaged coral DNA and contributed to bleaching, a phenomenon where coral expels vital algae which lives inside them.
Hawaii has set a landmark precedent, with shops already purging themselves of sunscreen brands containing the chemicals. With over 3,500 popular brands using oxybenzone and octinoxate, Hawaii sent a message to manufacturers. Though health industry representative opposed the bill, citing a lack of proof, many legislators opposed.
With coral reefs rapidly declining worldwide, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef the most famous example, a change in sunscreen is only one measure we can take to ensure their health. Sunscreen contamination doesn’t just occur when you take a dip in the sea. Studies showed that wastewater also has an impact, including the sunscreen you are showering off at home. If Governor Ige signs off on the bill, the ban would go into effect in 2021.