Everything You Need to Know about Why Sunscreen Pollution Is Killing Our Coral Reefs
We all know by now that our planet is facing some dangerous threats due to pollution mainly caused by humans and their behaviors but what about what happens in the places that we do not see such as our oceans and their inhabitants. One of the most beautiful and most important parts of marine life and oceans, in general, is the coral reefs. Over the past couple of years, our coral has not only disappeared but also become bleached meaning that all its color is lost.
One of the main reasons for this and one of the most unforeseen reasons has to do with the link between sunscreen and coral reefs and the oxybenzone coral that we are currently witnessing today. This severe reaction seen within the coral of our oceans has sparked major concern to scientists and researchers who are currently pinpointing why this may be occurring as well as how we can resolve this issue by simply making a few adaptations to our product use and lifestyles. In this article, we will be looking at how sunscreen, ocean pollution, and other factors are in turn killing and bleaching our coral reefs.
Is Sunscreen Bad for Coral?
There have been many discovered links between the chemical substances found in our sunscreens and the bleaching of coral and ocean pollution. Unfortunately, while a great protector against the harsh rays of the sun, sunscreen bad for the ocean in many ways. Not only is sunscreen an ocean polluter, but it has been found to have devastating and long-lasting effects on ut once extremely colorful coral reefs.
The chemicals that are cleverly designed to protect us from the sun and their ability to create some harsh and radical effects are the same chemical found in sunscreen killing coral reefs. Just a small amount of these chemicals entering our oceans is enough to cause coral to bleach, meaning that it loses all of its natural colors and their algal energy source that keeps oceans alive, thus making them susceptible to viral infections and eventually loss of life.
How Does Sunscreen Affect Coral Reefs?
For many of us, we put sunscreen onto our skin without even having a second thought about its potential effects on the coral reefs we are about to dip our feet in, however, sunscreen pollution is one of the greatest contributors to coral bleaching especially in vacation areas where it is most commonly found. But why is sunscreen killing coral reefs? The truth is that most of us don’t actually know about the harsh effects of sunscreen and pack it into our suitcases as the number one essential item on our list, and this isn’t entirely our fault.
The biggest problem that makes sunscreen harmful to coral is the ingredients found inside the product. These ingredients are actually toxic chemicals that, while protecting your skin from the sun effectively, destroy the oceans once immersed inside water. Ever heard of the chemical oxybenzone? Well, this is the main ingredient of concern and the one found in almost all sunscreens available to us today. This chemical is used to protect our skin from the damaging UV light emitted by the sun but does the opposite to coral when it washes off into the water. Oxybenzone affects our coral reefs in a multitude of ways including
- Increasing the coral’s susceptibility to encountering bleaching
- Damaging the corals DNA which disables the reproduction process
- Causes deformation and abnormal growth
- Stops and disturbs the coral’s natural hormonal process which interferes with the growth and reproduction process needed to expand their population
What Causes Sunscreen Coral Reef Damage?
The biggest problem when it comes to sunscreen is not that it is applied to the body and used against the harmful UV rays of the sun, but mainly because the harmful chemicals it contains wash off when you immerse yourself in the water, meaning that those chemicals now have free rein within the ocean and no way to stop them from having the devastating effects that they do. The number of chemicals actually entering the ocean per 10, 000 advent swimmers is pretty minimal with only about 4 kilograms of mineral particles doing the ongoing waves, however, these chemicals do not act alone and actually catalyze causing hydrogen peroxide to form, the most well-known bleaching agent that automatically causes harm to many organisms and especially coral. This coral bleaching sunscreen has meant that some of the world’s greatest reefs and attractions such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia have lost their once radiant color and turned to dull white attracting less and less marine life each day.
What Can We Do to Stop Sunblock Coral Reef Damage?
Unfortunately, we cannot reverse the side effects sunscreen has caused to our oceans and coral reefs, in particular, however, we can act to prevent further damage in the future and the risk of losing the livelihood of coral reefs altogether. Because of sunscreen containing oxybenzone, coral reefs and the organisms that surround it are the ones most affected and the only way to really reduce or stop this is by removing it altogether. Now, that’s a lot easier said than done because in many ways it is not in our control and sunscreen is an important part of protecting our skin from harsh diseases such as skin cancer. However, there are some alternatives that can prevent sunscreen harming coral reefs, which include :
- Use sunscreen as your last resort for protection. While using sunscreen is pretty easier and requires little to no effort, it is not the only way to protect yourself against the sun. Other alternatives you could use other than sunblock include wearing protective layers of clothing such as shirts, hats, and pants which can protect you from the sun’s rays while not in the water.
- Plan when you go in the sun. The sun has typical hours in which its heat is much hotter than others for example the middle of the day is the time when the sun is at its peaks, while the early mornings and evening are often less harsh. Also, try using a weather app that indicates how high the sun’s UV is and aim to go at times when this is lower than 5 for maximum protection.
- The third alternative to harmful coral reefs sunscreen is looking for sun cream. Alternatives that do not contain harsh chemicals such as oxybenzone. Firstly if you see an aerosol, no do buy it, these are the most harmful for the coral reefs. Secondly, look for products that include minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and should be below 100 nanometers to be safely ingested by coral without causing any devastating effects.
At the End of the Day
So what have we learned about sunscreen and how it is killing our coral reefs and causing devastating ocean pollution. In the effects of the harmful chemicals found in sunscreen, coral reefs become bleached and eventually die out meaning they can no longer reproduce or fulfill their role in the ocean, and thus marine life is no longer attracted to those areas of the ocean leaving something known as “dead zones”. These effects are witnessed daily, especially in vacation spots that attract a lot of tourists each year. At the end of the day, it is we that need to make the effort to either reduce the amount of sunscreen we use or exchange it for an alternative that is less harmful than those that contain harsh chemicals such as oxybenzone.
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