Sunblockers Pollute The Ocean and Impact Marine Life


On the subject of marine pollution, passion can let itself off….easily!  It can be because of the ocean’s beauty and vastness, or because its huge resources satisfy human life nutrition needs, and sustain activities such as fishing, transportation, energy production, and not less important, bathing as leisure. So, all and any action to promote the ocean’s environmental protection is commendable!

Hawaii’s Legislature introduces a bill to ban sunscreens

Of course, preserving our oceans has a direct positive impact on the health of humans, and of marine ecosystems.  This is why Hawaii is set to ban the sale of sunscreen chemicals that are toxic to coral reefs and marine life and become the first state in the US to do so. Specifically, the state legislature is to ban the sale of sunscreens containing two types of chemicals toxic to the ocean: oxybenzone and octinoxate, found in many common sunscreen products known to kill coral and marine life.   Senate Bill 2571  was passed by the Hawaii state’s legislature at the start of May this year.  Now it is up the governor David Ige (D) to sign the bill, in which case it will go into effect in 2021.

Studies provide evidence of sunscreens’ impact

Oxybenzone and octinoxate are the chemical species in sunscreens responsible for negatively impacting corals and oceans around the world, according to a scientific study published by the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.  The study shows that both chemicals can induce feminization in adult male fish, and increase reproductive diseases in marine invertebrate species (e.g., sea urchins), vertebrate species (e.g., fish such as wrasses, eels, and parrotfish), and mammals (in species similar to the Hawaiian monk seal). About 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion ends up in coral reefs around the world each, and the highest concentrations of sunscreen were found in tourist-filled beaches, like many in Hawaii and the US Virgin Islands.

Another research,  published by the Journal of The American Academy of Dermatology, has shown that the sunscreen agents that are dispersed in bodies of water decrease the penetration of UV light, which in turn affects aquatic organisms known as zooxanthellae, in symbiosis with corals, which depend on light for metabolic and reproductive functions by way  of endocrine disruption, all of which lead to coral bleaching.

Studies have also shown that the ocean pollution comes from both people wearing sunscreen as well as through wastewater streams that are sent to the sea.

Two separate and independent assessments for the concentrations of Oxybenzone found in Hanauma Bay were conducted for at least a dozen different marine/coral reef organisms. The first threat assessment was conducted by Dr. Silvia Diaz Cruz of the Spanish Council for Scientific Research. She is one of the foremost environmental chemists in the world regarding sunscreen pollution in aquatic and marine environments, as well as human contamination. Dr. Cheryl Woodley of the U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration conducted the other independent assessment. Both agencies’ findings indicate that the concentrations of oxybenzone pose an acute risk or threat to marine life. Concentrations of oxybenzone that are above 10 nanograms/liter in seawater pose a threat to coral and other marine life. It can also be argued that oxybenzone is a significant contributor to the degradation of Hanauma Bay’s coral reefs of the past 30 years.

Healthy Corals sustain a symbiotic relationship with algae to live

The commercial sale of sunscreens is based on skin protection against sunburn and UVA & UVB radiation known to cause skin cancer, and they are rated according to their Sun Protection Factor (SPF), indicating their strength. Only now, brands need to include alternate ingredients such as titanium oxide or zinc oxide. Therefore, Industry needs to adapt and reformulate products to satisfy human needs, protect and even enhance our environment.

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