Home Environment Sunscreen linked to massive destruction of coral reefs

Sunscreen linked to massive destruction of coral reefs

Suntan lotion might be protecting you from sunburns and cancer, but it may also be bleaching coral reefs. Turns out a chemical found in some lotions is poisonous for reefs.

coral reef bleaching, sunscreen
"Bleachedcoral" by Acropora at English Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Sunscreen may help protect your skin from the harsh rays of the sun, but  it’s a huge threat for already endangered coral reef systems.  A recently released study found that chemicals in sun tan lotion can bleach coral reefs, and only tiny amounts are needed.

Worse yet, early research indicates that only tiny amounts of sunscreen can do huge amounts of damage to coral reef systems.

Coral reef systems are already under threat across the world and a wide range of factors has been tied to their decline. Warming waters, oil spills, and various other factors have been tied to coral reef bleaching.

Further, it’s estimated that as much as 10 percent of the world’s reef systems have been completely destroyed, and many more are under threat.

It turns out that a chemical called oxybenzone can disrupt coral’s ability to absorb nutrients. The coral is essentially starved of nutrients and turns a ghostly white.

Just how potent is sunscreen lotion as a coral reef poison? Just one drop of the lotion into a volume of water equivalent to six Olympic swimming pools is enough to cause serious damage. Given that approximately 14,000 tons of sunscreen end up in or around coral reefs, this is a huge deal.

When it comes to sunscreen lotion, it’s important to remember that all roads, or in this case pipes, lead to the ocean. Even if you don’t use sunscreen at the beach, but instead at home or while out on a jog, it will most likely end up in the ocean anyways. As soon as you step into the shower and scrub off the lotion, it’ll flow down the drain and eventually back into the sea.

To add even further complications, sewer systems are often designed to send disposed water out into the ocean away from beaches and human settlements. Unfortunately, this means the water is often pumped directly into vital ecosystems.

Luckily, there are a number of oxybenzone free sun tan lotions. You can check out this list to find an alternative.

Oddly enough, researchers stumbled across the idea of looking into sunscreens and their effects on local ecosystems after striking up a conversation with a beach vendor. It was the vendor who noted that tourists often left behind “oil slicks.”

Researchers then decided to look into the slicks, and the results have been discouraging, to say the least. The study was published in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.