Parts of the world are start­ing to re­strict the use of over-the-counter sun­screens that have proven harm­ful to corals, ma­rine life and, po­ten­tially, us.

Action Asia - - CONTENTS -

How sun­screen dam­ages co­ral reefs and what we can do about it.

THE SCI­ENCE IS CLEAR: THE MA­JOR­ITY of sun­screens dam­age co­ral reefs. And now North Amer­i­can hol­i­day re­sorts are tak­ing the first steps in con­trol­ling ac­cess to those proven harm­ful in or­der to pro­tect their fu­ture busi­ness. A re­cent bill en­acted in Hawaii will strip all re­tail­ers of over-the-counter (OTC) sun­screens c o n t a i n i n g o x y b e n z o n e ( a l s o k n o wn a s ben­zophe­none-3) and octi­nox­ate, start­ing in 2021. Af­ter that date, res­i­dents and trav­ellers will only be able to buy those brands with a pre­scrip­tion. More than 3,500 prod­ucts are ex­pected to be out­lawed un­der the new leg­is­la­tion. A num­ber of ma­rine parks in Mex­ico have al­ready banned prod­ucts us­ing the two sub­stances, say­ing they will con­fis­cate any non-com­pli­ant sun­screen. Asia has yet to em­u­late such mea­sures but the day they do may not be that far away, given the im­por­tance of reefs to tourism in the re­gion. Some sci­en­tists and con­sumer groups say Hawaii’s leg­is­la­tion is too rad­i­cal, point­ing out that dam­age to reefs from sun­screen is minis­cule com­pared to that from global warm­ing, coastal devel­op­ment, agri­cul­tural runoff and oil spills. It is how­ever one fac­tor that pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als can ex­er­cise con­trol over, es­pe­cially given that eco-friendly op­tions are now read­ily avail­able on the mar­ket. Ac­cord­ing to a 2008 study by En­vi­ron­men­tal Health Per­spec­tives, 4,000 to 6,000 tonnes of sun­cream seeps into our oceans an­nu­ally world­wide. The vast ma­jor­ity is from OTC brands – in­clud­ing cer­tain lines from house­hold names like Ba­nana Boat, Cop­per­tone and Neu­tro­gena, con­tain­ing oxy­ben­zone and octi­nox­ate. A 2015 study by Us-based non-profit o r g a ni s a t i o n Haereti c u s En­vir o nmen­tal Lab­o­ra­tory found that both oxy­ben­zone and octi­nox­ate make corals more sus­cep­ti­ble to bleach­ing at lower tem­per­a­tures and re­sult in un­healthy, some­times de­formed, off­spring. Oxy­ben­zone, specif­i­cally, can cause ju­ve­nile co­ral to en­case them­selves in their own skele­tons, even­tu­ally killing them. And it doesn’t take much to make a mark: the

same study re­vealed that the low­est con­cen­tra­tion to see a toxic ef­fect was 62 parts per tril­lion (ppt), which is equiv­a­lent to a few drops in an Olympic-sized swim­ming pool. Trunk Bay in the Vir­gin Is­lands Na­tional Park in the Caribbean mea­sured con­cen­tra­tions at around 1.4 parts per mil­lion (ppm), while Hawaii ranged be­tween 800 ppt and 19 parts per bil­lion. Though oxy­ben­zone pol­lu­tion pre­dom­i­nantly oc­curs around shore­lines, ac­cord­ing to Haereti­cus, traces of the chem­i­cal have been found on reefs more than 30km away from land as a re­sult of trans­fer in sewage – mean­ing ap­pli­ca­tion any­where, not just on beaches and at sea, will make its way to corals. “We have lost at least 80% of the co­ral reefs in the Caribbean . . . Any ef­fort to re­duce oxy­ben­zone pol­lu­tion could mean a lo­cal reef sur­vives a long, hot sum­mer, or re­cov­ery for a de­graded reef,” wrote lead au­thor of the study, Dr Craig Downs. “Ev­ery­one wants to build co­ral nurs­eries for reef restora­tion, but this is an in­con­se­quen­tial ef­fort if the fac­tors that orig­i­nally killed off the reef re­main or in­ten­sify in the en­vi­ron­ment.” Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Pro­gramme on the State of Ocean (IPSO), oxy­ben­zone also in­hibits em­bry­onic devel­op­ment in sea urchins; gives male fish fe­male at­tributes; as well as re­duc­ing egg pro­duc­tion and em­bryo hatch­ings in fe­male fish. Oxy­ben­zone and octi­nox­ate have pre­vi­ously also been found to im­pair our own health. A study by the U.S. Cen­tres for Dis­ease Con­trol says oxy­ben­zone is linked to al­ler­gies, hor­monal dis­rup­tion and cell dam­age in hu­mans. A com­pan­ion study showed lower birth weights for baby girls among moth­ers ex­posed to the chem­i­cal dur­ing preg­nancy. Octi­nox­ate, mean­while, is tied to en­docrine dis­rup­tion in an­i­mals and hu­mans. Also, though Hawaii only bans sun­screens with oxy­ben­zone and octi­nox­ate, IPSO says that the rest of the in­gre­di­ent list in a typ­i­cal cream is also dam­ag­ing to both hu­mans and ma­rine life. Some are pheromone and en­docrine dis­rup­tors; oth­ers in­hibit fun­gal and bac­te­rial growth. Most are non-biodegrad­able, mean­ing they will ac­cu­mu­late and stay part of bi­o­log­i­cal sys­tems, some even for gen­er­a­tions af­ter­wards. Outrig­ger Waikiki re­sort was one of the first to of­fer sam­ples of en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly sun­screen, in­clud­ing brands All Good and Ab­so­lutely Nat­u­ral, to their guests back in 2014. Now, Vice Pres­i­dent of Cor­po­rate Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Mon­ica Sal­ter, wants to roll them out to all Opt for sim­ple, min­eral-based for­mu­las as ad­di­tions of pla nt-based oi ls li ke eu­ca­lyp­tus and laven­der can be dan­ger­ous to in­ver­te­brates, and beeswax may con­tain in­dus­trial in­sec­ti­cides. Al­ways choose lo­tions and creams over spray-ons, which are like­lier to end up in the sand where tur­tles lay eggs. Pull on sun-pro­tec­tive cloth­ing with ul­tra­vi­o­let pro­tec­tion fac­tor (UPF) rat­ing to min­imise sun­screen us­age.

their prop­er­ties world­wide. “When Outrig­ger first started pro­vid­ing Ozone [Ayurvedics] reef-friendly sun­screen to our guests, many gave us quizzi­cal looks,” she said. “To­day we get many more ‘aha’ mo­ments and nods from guests who are grate­ful for the prod­uct … I’m con­vinced that the over­ar­ch­ing ef­forts of our Ozone ini­tia­tive and Hawaii’s pi­o­neer­ing leg­is­la­tion on ban­ning the sale and dis­tri­bu­tion of sun­screens with oxy­ben­zone and octi­nox­ate will not only spark more con­sumer de­mand for the prod­uct but ig­nite a larger con­ver­sa­tion about our crit­i­cal role as stew­ards of these vi­tal un­der­wa­ter ecosys­tems.” So long as the use of oxy­ben­zone and octi­nox­ate in sun­screens re­mains le­gal and there’s yet to be a recog­nised stan­dard for ‘reef-friendly’ prod­ucts, con­sumers need to be vig­i­lant. Opt for min­eral-based for­mu­las made of zinc ox­ide and ti­ta­nium diox­ide con­tain­ing only un­coated and non-nano in­gre­di­ents, which are par­ti­cles less than 35 nanome­tres in di­am­e­ter, as any smaller par­ti­cles could en­ter the cells of in­ver­te­brates and “[blow] up the cells so they die,” says Downs. Min­eral-based for­mu­las are also a health­ier op­tion for hu­mans as they sit on the skin rather than seep within. Most so-called ‘reef-safe’ brands are only avail­able at spe­cial­ity stores or on­line. Names to con­sider in­clude All Good, Stream2sea, Raw El­e­ments, Vive Sana and Coola.

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