New research shows that sunscreen is harmful to coral reefs, and it is a major cause of their decline throughout the world.
According to newly released research from the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, the UV-filtering chemical known as oxybenzone has been found to be damaging to coral reefs. The chemical is found in roughly 3,500 brands of sunscreen worldwide.
The research team was led by Craig Downs. According to Downs, the areas that were found to contain the highest concentration levels of oxybenzone were found in coral reefs around Hawaii and the Caribbean Sea. These areas are particularly popular with tourists, many of whom use sunscreen.
This research helps to explain why baby coral reefs often fail to develop in resort areas that would most likely otherwise contain reefs.
The scientists say that oxybenzone changes the DNA of coral, making it more prone to fatal bleaching. Oxybenzone can also cause baby coral reefs to become encased in their own skeleton and subsequently die.
Estimates show that somewhere between 6,000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion ends up in waters that contain coral reefs every year. Much of this sunscreen contains oxybenzone.
It does not take much oxybenzone to cause damage to coral reefs. Damaging effects were seen in waters with a little as 62 parts of oxybenzone per trillion parts of water. That is the equivalent of one drop of water in six and a half Olympic-sized swimming pools.
However, the study shows that concentrations of oxybenzone were up to 12 times greater in the waters of Hawaii and the Caribbean Sea.
Additionally, the Environmental Working Group had stated in the past that the chemical could also be harmful to humans, causing hormonal and cellular changes.
However, the American Academy of Dermatology was quick to defend the chemical by saying that there is no data indicating that it is a health hazard and that it is one of the few known ingredients to protect human skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays.