New Hawaii sunscreen law protects corals

The new legislation in the state of Hawaii prohibits the distribution of sunscreens containing chemicals that scientists have found contributes to coral bleaching when washed off in the ocean.

Some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world are in Hawaii. The reefs are also a major tourist attraction, and given that Hawaii’s reefs are one of its biggest attractions, it’s no surprise they want to protect them. Especially in light of the fact that in the last three years over a fifth of the global coral reefs have died out, and the Hawaiian reefs have been one of the most affected, with 56% of them getting bleached.

Just this May, Hawaii passed a law banning the selling of sunscreen containing coral-reef harming chemicals. This new law will go into effect in January 2021 and will forbid the distribution of sunscreen containing oxybenzone and octinoxate that scientists have found contribute to the bleaching of the Hawaiian coral reef.

About 14 000 tons of sunscreen get thrown away into oceans every year. The greatest damage was recorded in Hawaii and the Carribean, a popular snorkeling destination, Hanauma Bay, has 412 pounds of sunscreen dropped each day.

While sunscreen isn’t the only enemy of healthy coral reefs, and other polluters include global warming, agriculture and sewage dumping. However, banning harmful chemicals in sunscreen is one of the few things that can easily be done.

“Hawaii’s reefs have been slowly dying over the past 20 years, and that death spiral has been accelerating with the impact of an El Niño-induced mass bleaching events and increased local pollution impacts from both tourism and development,” said Craig Downs, the executive director of the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory. “Everyone has come together to support this legislation, from local nurses and doctors, to resorts and airlines, as well as the entrepreneurial spirit of new sunscreen companies to supply reef-safer products.”

Most sunscreens available today, including popular kinds like Coppertone and Banana Boat, have these reef-harming chemicals as ingredients. Sunscreen companies are claiming, through their trade association that this ban will make it difficult to protect from the sun’s harmful effects. However, there are pretty easy ways to find “reef safe” sunscreens, and plenty of reason to. Furthermore, ocean reefs serve a number of other purposes

In normal times, the living coral polyps form a symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae, a type of algae that makes sunlight and carbon dioxide to create nutrients for the reef. This algae gives the coral its purple and gold colors.However, this symbiosis works only at a narrow temperature range, hence global warming gives reefs an even stronger ‘bleached’ look.

For now, consumers that want to protect both corals and their skin, need to look for “Reef Safe” biodegradable products. These contain mineral sunblocks, as opposed to using chemicals, and they don’t utilize nano particles(Thus called “non nano”) . These sunscreens, we believe are the first step into a more reef-friendly culture, and could lead into a more environmentally friendly society.

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