Avoid Toxic Sunscreens To Help Coral Reefs

Kim Wonderley
August 29, 2019 - 11:02 am
aroline Oliveira (L) and Rachel Scherdin help unveil one of 50 sunscreen dispensers that are being setup along the beach on March 13, 2015 in Miami Beach, Florida.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

If your next trip includes Hawaii, Mexico or maybe even the Florida Keys, choose your sunscreen wisely. Kim Wonderley takes a look at their environmental impact in this week's Road Report.

Before you head off to that tropical vacation, check your sunscreen. Does it include oxybenzone or octinoxate?

These are the non-biodegradable ingredients that are toxic to sea life and the coral reefs. Around the world, coral reefs are not only a crucial part of the planet's health and biological diversity, serving as home to about a quarter of all sea life. They also prop up the fishing industry and of course, the tourist industry.

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Toxic sunscreen alone is not the sole problem facing the world's oceans and reefs. It's the warming of waters coupled with all manner of pollution that pose threats. The Caribbean has been hit particularly hard by a massive bleaching of coral reefs in 2005 that resulted in the the loss of 50% of the reefs in Caribbean waters and a 90% loss in the Virgin Islands.

Due to the dire situation, many popular destinations, like Hawaii, are now enacting sunscreen bans which becomes official in 2021. Key West, which boasts the largest coral reef in the continental United States, has also banned the sale of harmful sunscreens beginning in 2021. 

But why wait? If you're heading to Hawaii's beaches, look for sunscreens labeled natural that include zinc oxide or titanium dioxide at the active ingredient. 

The planet as a whole has already lost 50% of its coral in the last 30 years. No matter where you plan to swim, surf or snorkel, doing the right thing is as easy as looking at the ingredients list. Or learn more by googling "reef friendly sunscreens". But in short, say no to oxybenzone and yes to sunblock made with zinc oxide.