Afraid of getting sunburnt when going swimming or diving? Before applying those enormous amounts of sun protectant lotion, try considering this new study, published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, which found that there is a harmful element in sunscreens that can contribute to the destruction of coral reefs.
In about 3500 brands of sunscreen, the chemical element Oxybenzone, known to filter UV rays, is discovered to be a potential contributor to the death of new corals and deterioration of the old ones, especially in high concentrations.
The team led by Craig Downs revealed that the chemical's concentration is highest on famous beach destinations like Hawaii and the Caribbean. In fact, an estimated 6000 to 14000 tons of lotion wrap up the coral reef-inhabited stretch. Most of these reports have oxybenzone.
Some of the harmful effects of this specific ingredient include alteration of DNA, disturbances of endocrine, and extinction of corals. Furthermore, coral bleaching, an event whereby corals lose their colour by expelling algae, which is essential for their nutrition, is also aggravated.
For a concentration as low as 62 parts per trillion, that is, a drop of water in an Olympic-sized pool, it can already trigger hazardous effects. In Hawaii and the Caribbean, this amount is surprisingly 12-fold higher. This, according to Downs, might explain why young corals are no longer found in resort-crowded areas.
"Any small effort to reduce oxybenzone pollution could mean that a coral reef survives a long, hot summer, or that a degraded area recovers. Everyone wants to build coral nurseries for reef restoration, but this will achieve little if the factors that originally killed off the reef remain or intensify in the environment," Downs said.
How can we help protect these valuable resources then?
"Wear rash guards or scuba wetsuits and skip all the hygienic products when you go diving," John Fauth, a professor from the University of Central Florida and a diver, advised beach lovers. "If we could do it for a week at a time, people can certainly forgo it for a few hours to help protect these reefs for our children and their children to see."