Coral Bleaching: Change Your Sunscreen

Coral Bleaching: Change Your Sunscreen
Save the Reefs!

Save the Reefs!

When multitudes of vibrant colors which make up hundreds of miles of coral slowly turn white, it is called coral bleaching. This is a stress response caused by natural source phenomenon such as bright sunlight or heavy rains. However humans, unsurprisingly, are also playing their role. Pollution has wreaked havoc on our oceans since certain individuals decided it was a large enough garbage can to dump into, assuming there would be undetectable results. They could not have been more wrong. In addition, the overuse of fossil fuels is causing our oceans to be front and center in the onslaught of a variety of residual effects. Coral bleaching is one of many of these results and it is up to us to make some small changes so we can slowly, but effectively, reduce the damage.

Unknown Damage through Sunscreen

Sunscreen is a tricky formula. Companies have taken extreme advantage of the public’s paranoia of skin cancer when frolicking outdoors. They advertise high SPF numbers as well as alleged natural ingredients for the best protection and tan. The problem arises when certain chemicals are used in particular sunscreens. They can then leach into the water you are swimming in and contribute to coral bleaching. If you are fortunate enough to be enjoying the privilege of a colorful coral reef while snorkeling along the surface, chances are that if your sunscreen is not eco-friendly, you may be damaging that reef without even knowing it.

How it Happens

All it takes is just a few micro-liters of sunscreen per every liter of water to trigger a whitening process amongst the coral in as little as 24 to 72 hours. There are approximately 78 million tourists that release about 4,000 to 6,000 tons of sunscreen into our oceans annually. According to a combined study by a consortium of marine researchers from the Department of Marine Sciences, Institute of Biochemistry, Department of Chemical Sciences and Technologies as well as the Faculty of Science at Polytechnic University of Marche, Ancona, Italy, the following conclusion was reported: “We conclude that sunscreens, by promoting viral infection, potentially play an important role in coral bleaching in areas prone to high levels of recreational use by humans.” The viral infection is the coral’s adverse reaction to the chemicals in certain sunscreens causing its life enhancing, color causing algae called zooxanthellae, to die. This results in the coral turning white and, in extreme cases, also dying.

How You Can Help

By changing your sunscreen choice you can prevent adding to this problem. Reported in a 2008 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, using sunscreen that contains physical UV filters such as kaolin, zinc oxide or titanium dioxide instead of chemical ones is allowable for coral reef safety. Any botanical additives are also okay but once the words in the ingredients are unpronounceable or ‘fragrance’ stands alone, reach for something else.

Coral bleaching can be avoided. We can perpetuate, not suffocate, these life sustaining living organisms. Pass on the info so more people get the picture and the picture of colorful coral returns.


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