We’re protecting our skin, but what about our reefs?
Globally we are all now well-educated on the harmful impact of the sun’s rays on our skin, but does everyone know that many sunscreens are harmful to our reefs?
It’s estimated that 6,000 to 14,000 tons of sunscreen gets into our oceans every year and that tiny amounts of the ‘wrong kind’ can cause damage to coral and young fish. There are 2 different kinds of sunscreens; physical and chemical. Physical sunscreens deflect the sun’s rays and generally contain Zinc oxide, whereas chemical sunscreens absorb the sun’s rays and contain a variety of ingredients that can include Oxybenzone. It’s this chemical that is harming our marine life.
It has been proven that Oxybenzone disrupts reproduction and growth, and can leave young coral deformed. It can also exacerbate coral bleaching where the coral rejects the organisms that give them their colour. It also has a harmful impact on fish larvae and embryos, which is unsurprising as current research shows that there is a higher concentration of sunscreen chemicals within fish, than in the water they live in.
So what can we do?
It’s all about choices and reading the label. There are a lot of great companies that have organic sunscreen products, but really all you need to do is avoid Oxybenzone. Another good tip is to make sure you get a lotion that needs to be rubbed in as spray sunscreens tend to get into sand and be washed straight into the sea. The other option is to cover up and stay in the shade, that can be tough for us instructors (we have all had the burn from teaching an open water or rescue course!) but we can combat that by wearing rash guards and head protection so that there is less exposed that needs to have sunscreen applied.
We need to stay safe from the sun’s harmful rays, let’s do that while considering the health of our coral and marine life.