Did you know that two ingredients found in many popular sunscreen products — oxybenzone and octinoxate — are known to harm and kill corals?
When you apply sunscreen with these chemicals and then swim or snorkel, sunscreen washes off your body and contaminates the reef ecosystem. Sunscreen pollution is especially problematic in popular snorkeling locations, where sunscreen is washing off dozens or possibly hundreds of people each and every day.
Why oxybenzone and octinoxate are bad for reefs
Scientific testing shows that oxybenzone and octinoxate may stunt the growth of baby corals, reports Dr. Craig Downs, executive director of the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Clifford, Virginia.
Oxybenzone can also cause coral bleaching. An oxybenzone concentration of around 400 ppt over several days is enough to induce coral bleaching in warm waters. Downs’ team tested ocean water off popular beaches on Maui and detected oxybenzone contamination of up to 4,000 parts per trillion (ppt).
Oxybenzone is toxic to seven coral species, according to Dr. Downs’ team, who tested the impact of the sunscreen chemical on corals in the lab.
Oxybenzone may be an endocrine disruptor among marine animals such as shrimps and clams.
Maui Nui Marine Resource Council reaches out to Maui County visitors and residents at events (such as the Aloha Classic and West Maui Ridge 2 Reef Rendezvous) and via social media to educate everyone about sunscreen pollution.
Working with local snorkel cruise operators
Many snorkel cruise companies on Maui now provide their guests with sunscreens that are free of oxybenzone and octinoxate –thanks to members of our team who worked with others in the local community to source affordable alternative products in bulk.
Testifying for legislation to protect reefs from these chemicals
Maui Nui Marine Resource Council has testified repeatedly in support of a proposed Maui County ban on the sale of sunscreen products containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. Read our most recent testimony here.
What you can do:
1. Avoid sunscreens and body care products that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. Read the labels carefully.
2. Skip spray-on products that disperse sunscreen everywhere around you (including on sand, where it washes into the ocean).
3. Choose zinc oxide or titanium dioxide based sunscreens. Here are some locations on Maui that carry sunscreens that are free of oxybenzone and octinoxate:
Ask for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide based sunscreens that are free of oxybenzone and octinoxate wherever you shop for body care products. Encourage stores to carry these safer alternatives.
4. Avoid all sunscreen products made with nano particles and other possible reef-harming ingredients, including avobenzone, octocrylene and homosalate.
5. Minimize your need for sunscreen by covering up with a hat and rash guard. Swim tights or athletic tights (like you would wear to the gym) also provide effective sun protection.
6. Choose snorkel cruise companies that require passengers to use sunscreens that are free of oxybenzone and octinoxate.
7. Remember that even if you are miles away from the ocean, chemicals washed off your body in your shower or bath will eventually find their way to the sea. When you’re home, do a good turn for coral reefs everywhere by avoiding all body care products with oxybenzone and octinoxate.