Hawaii Bans Sunscreen That Bleaches Coral

by Oliver Boyers
bleached coral

Hawaii bans sunscreen that is non-reef safe. This law came into effect on the 1st of Jan 2021. Science has shown that the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are found in many household sunscreens, contribute to coral bleaching. Always remember to buy reef-safe sunscreen.

Many beach-goers are unsuspectingly contributing to the global coral bleaching crisis when they go for a swim in the ocean. This is due to the above-mentioned chemicals in some sunscreen being absorbed by corals on contact. These chemicals disrupt a coral’s reproduction and growth cycles which ultimately leads to the bleaching of the coral.

Why did Hawaii Ban Sunscreen?

Hawaii is the first American state to pass a bill banning the sale of sunscreen in a bid the protect their coral waters. It is estimated that an annual 14,000 tons of sunblock are introduced to the oceans globally. The greatest damage occurring to shallow tropical reefs around popular tourist destinations such as Hawaii, Bali, and Australia.

What is coral bleaching?

Coral bleaching occurs when corals lose their distinctive colors and turn to a bleached white color. The reason that coral has such vibrant colors in the first place is due to all the microscopic algae on them call zooxanthellae. The algae live in symbiosis with the coral and they contribute to each other’s health. When the coral’s ideal environment is disturbed, it causes the coral to react by expelling the algae from it, creating that white bleached look. If the coral’s conditions do not return to normal, it will die.

What is the cause of coral bleaching?

Sunscreen isn’t the only contributor to coral bleaching. Other factors that can contribute to coral bleaching are:

  1. Changes in water temperature
  2. Water pollution
  3. Extremely low tides
  4. Overexposure to sunlight

What are the effects of coral bleaching?

When an animal’s habitat dies, that animal has fewer places to live. Coral reefs are the home to many ocean-faring organisms and serve as a creche to many forms of budding sea life. An even bigger problem is that when a coral reef dies, it is very rare for this same spot to make a comeback. This can have a huge impact on the ocean ecosystem which has a massive butterfly effect due to the role that coral reefs play in the early stages of sea life development.

Surfers footnote: if the reefs degrade and die, their mass changes will cause the death of many waves around the world.  So if you like to shred, put reef safe on your head.

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