Coral reefs are home to 25% of the ocean’s marine life. These fragile ecosystems are actually living creatures and are being irreparably damaged at an alarming rate. Over 35% of the world’s reefs have died; in high-traffic places, like the caribbean, that number is a staggering 80%. This puts millions of aquatic creatures at risk! Scientists point out that it will take hundreds of years to regrow some of this coral, but there are small changes we can make to help protect them right now. One of those changes is as simple as replacing your bottle of sunscreen.
There are many things, such as warming ocean waters, extreme weather events, and disease, that can impact the health of coral reefs. Water pollution, especially from the chemicals found in sunscreen, plays a large part in the destruction of coral. Every year 14,000 tons of sunscreen containing harmful chemicals like oxybenzone is absorbed by the reef systems. While these chemicals are considered safe for humans, even miniscule amounts rapidly bleach coral and slow new growth. One study found that a single drop in 4.3 MILLION gallons of water (think 6 Olympic-sized pools) is enough to kill coral.
Thankfully, environmental scientists and lawmakers are teaming up to save these “rainforests of the sea,” as they are sometimes described. In 2018, Hawai’i passed a bill banning the sale of sunscreen containing harmful chemicals. Shortly after, Palau followed suit. If more states take action to protect the reef, there’s a chance we can slow down the damage, and even reverse it.
How you can help
- Check the label: look for a “reef-safe” sticker on your sunscreen. Choose mineral-based sunblocks using zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, both reef-friendly options.
- Check the list: The Environmental Working Group rates sun protection products on their environmental impact. Look at the list before completing your summer shopping.
- Skip the spray: Aerosol spray bottles are not as effective as lotion sunscreens, and experts estimate that as much as 70% of aerosol sunscreen winds up on the sand instead of on your body! When a harmful sunscreen lands on the sand, it is easily washed into the ocean. Protect yourself and the reef by switching to a mineral-based lotion sunscreen.
It’s not too late to save these international treasures! Coral reefs are a beautiful sight to behold, and are critical parts of our marine ecosystem. Without them, millions of aquatic creatures are out of a home. By making small changes, we can all do our part to help protect these delicate reefs.