What is coral bleaching and how global warming is a major trigger is gaining more awareness but did you know that your sunscreen is a potential culprit?
Certain ingredients that are common in sun protection products can cause damage to coral reefs, as well. This is why you should read through a guide to using sunscreen that is safe for marine life and only use the best scuba diving reef-safe sunscreen.
Is Sunscreen Harmful to Corals & Marine Life?
Changing your sunscreen is such a small change in your routine which could already help protect coral reefs that are currently under a lot of stress.
In the following post, we will discuss what it is exactly in these everyday products that are harming the worlds coral reef systems and what you can do to help protect it.
Changing your sunscreen is a small gesture but it can have a major impact on ocean health.
Damaging Chemicals in Sunscreen
Unfortunately, the list of harmful ingredients in sunscreen is quite long and complicated. Next time you stock up, check the label for these chemicals and put it right back on the shelf if you spot them.
- 4-Methyl benzylidene camphor
- 3-benzylidene camphor
- Nano-titanium oxide
- Nano-zinc oxide
The most dangerous chemical for corals, oxybenzone, acts as a UV-filter for humans but as a toxin to the aquatic ecosystem. This toxin enters the water when you use it during a dive or swim but traces can also be found in gray water runoff that ends up in the ocean.
A 2013 study performed by NOAA and partners researched the effect of oxybenzone-2 or BP-2, for short and in 2016 another study did similar work oxybenzone -3 or BP-3. This second study has very close results to the 2013 research; exposure to the toxin resulted in DNA damage of young specimens and increased coral bleaching.
The Impact Sunscreen Has on Coral Reefs
Besides coral bleaching caused by BP-3 and BP-2, other common ingredients in this product type can also affect marine wildlife. Other research projects have identified the following effects.
Methyl benzylidene camphor, also known as enzacamene, is toxic to certain types of mussels and sea urchins. A study also shows damage to zebrafish and certain species of plankton.
Other fish species are also affected. It decreases the fertility of female fish which can have long term effects on world fish populations which in turn can also negatively impact the fishing industry.
Chemicals are not the only ocean pollutant. Physical sunscreens that use titanium or zinc nanoparticles are also harmful; they affect plankton which leads to traces of toxins further in the food chain.
These nanoparticles are also ingested by coral which are a major food source in the aquatic ecosystem. The size of these particles are the main concern so it is possible to use these natural UV-filters in a more environmentally friendly manner.
The residue is also seen to impact dolphins. The chemicals can build up in their tissues, affects the DNA and gets passed on to the offspring so that several generations are affected.
Green algae, which is a food source for many marine animals, experience stunted growth and have more difficulty in performing photosynthesis. Essentially, this means a decrease in the food supply.
What Sunscreen You Should Be Using
Not all sun protection products are damaging to the environment. Fortunately, several brands and companies have released versions that provide protection from the sun’s damaging UV-radiation without posing a risk for marine wildlife.
Products that are based on zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are safe for coral reefs as long as it does not contain nanoparticles. Larger particles are okay because they cannot be consumed by coral simply due to their size.
Look for a cream or gel substance and skip the spray-on products. The spray variants are more likely to end up in places other than your skin with every press.
Looking for your own reef-safe sunscreen? Here are our 3 most popular reef-safe sunscreen picks:
- Ideal for Everyday Use
- Recommended by SCF
- Oxybenzone Free
- All Natural Ingredients
- Easy to Apply
- Chemical Free
Do an online search for recognized lists of the most environmentally-friendly sun protection products like the one published by the Haereticus Environmental Lab. Also, browse through the Consumer Products Inventory for a check on the ingredients and whether it contains nanoparticles.
Other Sun Protection Products and Methods
Besides sunscreen, there are other products that offer protection from ultraviolet radiation. Special UPF clothing is a great alternative but even normal clothing items can act as a barrier.
UPF swimming gear are items of clothing that you can wear underwater that block out UV rays. Alternatively, you can wear a regular long-sleeved swim shirt or swimming leggings so that you have more coverage from sunlight.
A sun hat is a good piece to carry with you so that it protects the thinner and more sensitive skin on your face. Also, don’t forget about UV sunglasses that protect your eyes – the bigger the better.
Aside from clothing and accessories, pay attention to when you expose yourself to sunlight. The sun is at its strongest between 10 am and 2 pm so try to stay in the shade during these times.