Why does sunscreen and sun cream damage coral reefs?

Project & Pod News / 06 March 2019 Why does sunscreen and sun cream damage coral reefs?

Over the past three years, one-fifth of the world’s coral reefs have died off and there is a growing awareness that sunscreen is playing a role. It has been calculated that a shocking 14,000 tonnes of sunscreen slides off of humans and onto the world’s coral reefs each year, exposing these gorgeous underwater ecosystems to chemicals that kill them. The chemicals found in sunscreen (most notably oxybenzone and octinoxate) can kill developing coral, increase the bleaching of coral and damage the developing polyps.

As part of their conservation work to protect the underwater world, our Reef Conservation team in Belize and Marine Conservation team in Thailand have banned all sunscreens that kill coral reef and all volunteers must bring only reef-safe sunscreen. 

Reef Conservation in Belize

Reef-Safe Sunscreen:  What You Need To Know

In order to find reef-safe sunscreen you should:

1.    Check that oxybenzone and octinoxate are not listed ingredients

These two chemicals are harmful to corals and can cause sunscreen-induced coral bleaching, so look for them in the ingredient list

2.    Check that the mineral based sunscreen is “non-nano” 

Sunscreens made with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are mineral-based, so rather than being absorbed like traditional sunscreen, the particles of these ingredients sit on top of the skin and block harmful UV rays. In order for mineral sunblocks to leave corals unharmed, they must be “non-nano”, meaning the ingredient particles must be above 100 nanometers in size so that they cannot be ingested by corals. Non-nano mineral based sunscreen have not been linked to coral bleaching. 

3.    Reef-safe labels

Bottles may label their product as “reef-safe” but it is always best to double check the ingredients to be sure!

Reef Conservation in Belize

National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science conducted research into the impacts that sunscreen chemicals has on marine life, and have created this great infographic.

Sunscreen infographic

Here is our list of some Reef-Safe sunscreens that are available:

  • Thinksport SPF 50 Sunscreen

  • Badger SPF 30 Unscented Sunscreen Cream

  • Stream2Sea SPF 30 Mineral Sunblock

  • All Good SPF 30 Sport Sunscreen Lotion

  • Coral Safe All Natural Biodegradable Sunscreen

  • Sun Bum Reef Friendly Ingredients Sunscreen

  • Babo Botanicals SPF 30 Clear Zinc Lotion

  • Raw Elements SPF 30 Certified Natural Sunscreen

  • Tropical Sands Biodegradable Mineral Sunscreen 

Belize Reef Conservation

Sunscreens are far from the only threat to coral reefs. Climate change, warming oceans, overfishing, coastal runoff and ocean acidification represent the major reasons why coral reefs are dying around the world. However, banning sunscreens that are not reef-safe does remove one of the many threats, and helps give the reefs the best possible chance of survival. 

If you would like to help support reef research and conservation you can learn about our volunteer projects who are looking for volunteers here: www.podvolunteer.org/project-type/marine-conservation



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