Let the Corals Have Their Colors

Partially bleached coral in Kaneohe, Hawaii. Coral reefs worldwide are at risk of damage from the suncscreen ingredient oxybenzone. PHOTO: AP

Partially bleached coral in Kaneohe, Hawaii. Coral reefs worldwide are at risk of damage from the suncscreen ingredient oxybenzone. PHOTO: AP

Corals worldwide are losing their colors, they are getting bleached. We’d discussed how stress due to global warming and climate change is forcing corals to drive out the zooanthellae that give them their colors. And now here’s more evidence on how human lifestyles are affecting life beneath the waters.

New research about sunscreen’s damaging effects on coral reefs suggests that you might want to think twice before slathering it on. Reports about the harmful environmental effects of certain chemicals in the water have been circulated for years, but according to the authors of a new study, the chemicals in even one drop of sunscreen are enough to damage fragile coral reef systems. Some 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotions wind up in coral reefs around the world each year.

The ingredient oxybenzone leaches the coral of its nutrients and bleaches it white. It can also disrupt the development of fish and other wildlife. Scientists conducted the new study in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Hawaii and Israel, but reefs all over the world are at risk, according to a 2011 report by the World Resource Institute.

While destructive fishing, pollution and development all pose threats to the coral reef, the study reveals that sunscreen is a serious danger to the health of coral. “The use of oxybenzone-containing products needs to be seriously deliberated in islands and areas where coral reef conservation is a critical issue,” co-author Craig Downs said according to the Washington Post.

“We have lost at least 80 percent of the coral reefs in the Caribbean,” Downs said. “Any small effort to reduce oxybenzone pollution could mean that a coral reef survives a long, hot summer, or that a degraded area recovers.”

NPR brings more coverage here.

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