Hawaii to ban sunscreen harmful to coral reefs

Chemicals toxic to coral reefs led Hawaii to ban sunscreen

The island state of Hawaii has introduced an unprecedented measure to save its colourful marine ecosystem. On 1 May, local authorities passed a bill that bans the use of particular sunscreen lotions containing chemicals harmful to coral reefs.

14,000 tonnes of sunscreen lotion ends up in coral reefs each year ― Shutterstock Hawaii to ban coral reef damaging sunscreen
14,000 tonnes of sunscreen lotion ends up in the sea covering coral reefs each year ― Shutterstock

The new legislation reflects a peer-reviewed study published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology in 2015 suggesting that chemicals called oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are often used in cosmetics, contribute to coral bleaching when washed off in the ocean.

According to the author of the research, Craig Downs, 14,000 tonnes of sunscreen ends up in coral reefs each year.

“Lots of things kill coral reefs but we know oxybenzone prevents them from coming back,” Downs said, stating that the ban could be effective.

“This is the first real chance that local reefs have to recover,” he said.

However, the legislation has also found its critics who call it just a “feel-good measure”. Their main criticism is that there are other threats equally harmful to coral, such as global warming and coastal development. The American Chemistry Council claims that sun exposure to humans is also a danger.

As the new rules will go into effect on 1 January 2021, holidaymakers will have to look for reef-friendly sunscreen lotions.

Edgewell Personal Care, Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen lotions producer, are reportedly ready to accept the new regulations and are already making products free of the two chemicals. The company “will continue to ensure we comply with all relevant regulations concerning oxybenzone and octinoxate”.

Hawaii is not the only location that has been taking the sunscreen issue seriously. Authorities in the Virgin Islands, South Florida and destinations in Mexico have already been encouraging tourists to use sunscreens made with biodegradable chemicals.