Oceans and coral reefs all around the world are in more danger now than ever before. Beaches are full of pollution, and specifically, reefs are threatened by coastal development, coral harvesting, and toxic substances in everyday products like sunscreen and pesticides. According to the EPA, “since the Industrial Revolution, ocean acidity has increased by about 30%, a rate that is more than 10 times what has previously occurred for millions of years.” The ocean acidity levels are expected to increase by another 40% by the end of the century.
Things like excess nutrients, microplastics, and other pathogens, like sewage or harmful ingredients in everyday products and run-off from pesticides, can cause an increase in nutrients and algae growth, which is bad for coral because they are adapted for low-nutrient levels. With this sudden increase in nutrients, the algae blocks the sunlight and takes the oxygen the coral needs to survive. Other pollution like microplastics are consumed by marine organisms including coral, turtles, and fish.
“I’ve looked into it and I heard that making sunscreen without that chemical, and using a substitute is much more expensive than actually having harmful chemicals,” said Vice President of T.R.E.E. Club, Luke Mason. “If companies can find a way to produce this and people are willing, I feel if you are teaching people, they will be more willing to help out the reefs using different sunscreens, rather than using cheaper sunscreens that affect the ocean.”
Chemicals in many products like sunscreen are detrimental to reef health. These chemicals include but are not limited to, nano-Titanium dioxide, nano-Zinc oxide, Oxybenzone, and Benzophenone-1. According to the NOAA, “Oxybenzone, or BP-3, is found in more than 3,500 skincare products worldwide for protection against the sun’s harmful effects.” These chemicals found in many name brand sunscreens build up in coral tissue and can speed up the effect of coral bleaching. Not only coral is harmed with these chemicals, but it also damages the reproductive and immune systems in fish and other marine plants.
The discussion of reef destruction and overall pollution has been on the rise in past years, and people have become more aware of what products they choose to wear. Many say that sunscreen should be your last resort when protecting yourself from the sun. When going to the beach better options would be to wear sun shirts, glasses, and hats. Checking the UV index is always a good idea when you know you are going to be in the sun for a long time.
Of course, these options are not always available, and it is a lot easier to wear sunscreen. When buying sunscreen, look for brands that say beach safe or reef safe. Brands like Coola, Sunshine, and Glitter, and The Honest Co. are all listed as “reef safe” because they don’t have harmful chemicals like Oxybenzone, BP-3, or nano-Zinc oxide.
In order to save our oceans and reefs, pollution and amounts of chemical runoff need to fall. By being more conscious about products we use, what is in them, and where they come from, we can help stop coral reef destruction.
Photo by Jasmine Diaz