Dayton Daily News

To protect reef, Key West hits sunscreen chemicals

- Karen Zraick

Key West, the sunny city at the southernmo­st tip of Florida, voted this week to ban the sale of sunscreen containing chemicals believed to harm coral reefs.

The law’s supporters see it as a crucial step toward protecting the great treasure of the Florida Keys: the world’s third-largest barrier reef ecosystem, which runs nearly 150 miles, hosts thousands of species of marine life, and attracts divers and snorkelers from around the globe.

The measure, which the City Commission approved Tuesday in a 6-1 vote, will ban sales of sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. The legislatio­n will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021.

“Our coral has been under attack by a number of stressors,” Mayor Teri Johnston said. “We just thought if there was one thing we could do, to take one of the stressors away, it was our responsibi­lity to do so.”

Over the last year, the state of Hawaii and the Western Pacific nation of Palau have also restricted sunscreen sales to protect the otherworld­ly coral reefs. (Parts of Mexico also ban nonbiodegr­adable sunscreen.) Hawaii’s law bans the same chemicals as Key West’s and takes effect on the same date. In Palau, 10 chemicals are prohibited, a list that could grow.

Johnston said that people with medical prescripti­ons would be exempt from the ban, and the first offense would be met with a warning. The second offense would incur fines that are still to be determined.

She added that the reef was crucial to both the environmen­t and the tourism-driven local economy.

The National Park Service says that between 4,000 and 6,000 tons of sunscreen enter reef areas each year, and studies have found that the chemicals they contain can damage coral reefs, contributi­ng to “bleaching” and death.

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