A sunscreen ban in Hawaii could protect coral reefs

May 10, 2018

Hawaii, America’s “state of bliss,” has had more than its share of natural disasters recently. Floods on Kauai, spouting lava and lethal gas on the Big Island, and a series of earthquakes there, too, all have hit the headlines within the past month. And now comes news that the coral reefs are dying due to an excess of sunscreen dissolving in the open sea, just beyond those pristine beaches.

It turns out that the chemicals we use to keep our skin safe are noxious to the coral reefs—and the amount of sunscreen entering into and contaminating the oceans is far from negligible. According to one 2015 estimate, some 14,000 tons of sunscreen assault the world’s coral reefs every year.

The good news, Futurism reports, is that Hawaii’s lawmakers are stepping in to help.

On May 1, the Hawaii State Legislature passed a bill that would ban the sale of sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. Research has shown that these chemicals are toxic to coral, and can promote viral infections that cause coral bleaching—even in small doses.

The bill now goes to the desk of Hawaii Governor David Ige (D), who has 45 days to sign it. He has not yet indicated whether he will. But if he does, this bill would be the first of its kind in the world. It would take effect on January 1, 2021.

While a sunscreen ban indeed doesn’t do much to combat the serious impacts of polluted, warming, and acidifying oceans on reefs, it absolutely could make a difference, Futurism reports. Reefs are more sensitive to the impacts of these larger changes when they’re stressed, and the research evidence so far suggests that chemicals in sunscreen can at least act as a serious stressor.

It is no surprise that sunscreen manufacturers are opposed to the bill. . In August, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, a trade group,  released a statement claiming that other factors, such as climate change, were a more significant factor than sunscreen for reef decline.

Finally the new ban would not eliminate sunscreens altogether; there are lots of brands that don’t use oxybenzone and octinoxate but still provide good protection from the summer sun.

Research contact: @cm_geib

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