As summer gets into full swing, we hear over and over about the benefits of sunscreen and protecting our skin from the sun. While this is sage advice indeed, there are some very important environmental factors to consider when choosing proper sun protection.
While most of us do not consider the small amount of sunscreen that is washed from our skin and into the ocean while we play in the waves on a hot day, this runoff can have a major impact on neighboring sea life. Specifically, non-biodegradable sunscreen is known to cause great harm to coral reefs. Sunscreen has been shown to activate dormant viruses in the algae that live on coral, causing the algae to explode. This leaves the coral unable to photosynthesize vital chemical energy for the reef’s ecosystem. When the algae die, not only does the coral bleach and die, but it puts the remaining wildlife at risk of starvation. Algae play an important role in the food chain and the coral provides shelter for enumerable sea creatures.
It is estimated that up to 5,000 tons of sunscreen is washed into the oceans each year, putting approximately 10% of the world’s coral reefs in jeopardy. Scientists have called coral reefs the “medicine cabinet of the future,” meaning that the diverse ecosystem could unlock the cures to many diseases.
So what can we do? There are many brands of reef friendly, biodegradable sunscreens made with all natural or easily broken down ingredients. The most popular brand, Reef Safe, is endorsed by the American Lifeguard Association and is provided free on many commercial snorkel tours. Other brands include: Caribbean Solution, Loving Naturals and Lavera.
This is one simple solution to a big problem. Increased awareness can bring about great change. So next time you are on the market for sunscreen, make an eco-conscious and easy decision.