Eco-friendly sunscreens have been developed recently, and along with this improvement comes data on how destructive regular sunscreen is to coral reefs.
As most of us know, coral reefs are the lungs of our worldwide oceans, creating life, oxygen and ecosystems that are critical to the health of all ocean waters. On the local level, damaging coral reefs is detrimental to the nearby people who live and learn off these fascinating marine forms.
In Cayman, for example, the coral reefs that ring our three islands are the reason for our scuba tourism which is a large part of our economy. On the international level, damaging coral reefs causes loss of life and health in the world’s oceans at large.The problem is that an estimated 4,000-6,000 tons of sunscreen is left behind in the ocean when it washes off people in the water. For tourist destinations like ours, this not only a problem, it is really bad news. A quick Google search teaches us that the harmful chemicals in sunscreen (such as octinoxate, oxybenzone, butylparaben, PABA, 4- methylbenzylidene camphor) when combined with the oil in the product work as a toxic blanket or oil slick which envelops the corals and ultimately suffocates and poisons them. It is said that sunscreens are one of the main reasons for the bleaching of coral reefs that is epidemic in some locations. Fortunately, manufacturers are responding and starting to produce sunscreens without these toxic chemicals. Biodegradable sunblocks break down naturally and cause minimal ecological damage. That is good news to us and no doubt to the thousands of tourist destinations world wide that are centered on water sports. When you visit Cayman, please help save our reefs and wear only reef-friendly sunblock. Better yet, recommend your favourite brand and tell us how well it works so we can spread the word.