Sunday, February 17, 2008


Are you, yes you, threatening Hawaii's coral reefs?

by Larry Geller

Thanks to the Progressive Review News for this warning:


COSMETIC DESIGN - Ingredients in sun care products may be bleaching coral reefs by promoting viral infections, say scientists at the University of the Marche, Italy. Organic UV filters and preservatives used in sun care products could contribute to the bleaching of hard-coral if released into natural systems, say the researchers led by Roberto Danovaro. . . The team found that the addition of sunscreen to the sampling sites, even in very low concentrations resulted in the release of large amounts of zooxanthellae within 18-48 hours and complete bleaching of hard coral within 96 hours. . . Large quantities of sunscreen released every year. Furthermore, the team estimate that 25 per cent of the sunscreen applied to the skin is released in the water over the course of 20 minutes. Using sunscreen application guidelines released by the FDA, and estimated numbers of tourists visiting coral reef areas, the study claims that a potential 4,000 - 6,000 tons of sunscreen could be released into reef areas per year.

Which products are implicated?

"These results suggest that sunscreens containing parabens, cinnamates, benzophenones and camphor derivatives can contribute to hard coral bleaching if released into natural systems," wrote the authors of the study.

Check your squeeze bottle. Chances are that stuff is in there. So what is one to do?

"Actions are therefore needed to stimulate the research and utilization of UV filters that do not threaten the survival of these endangered tropical ecosystems," they conclude. 

I used to swim in the early morning, before sunup (so no sunscreen required). It was fantastic to watch the glorious sunrise display behind Diamond Head from way out in the ocean. Then a newspaper article advised that sharks feed at that time, so I gave it up. Nice to know that no coral reefs were harmed, though.

Hawaii's tourist industry is based largely on basting all those hot bodies with all those bad chemicals. Here's one more concern to add to our list. Tourists are killing our coral reefs.

After the Legislature bans aspartame, maybe it can look at parabens and benzophenones. Those things sound so bad that a new law should sail through committee hearings quickly. I can't imagine anyone coming to the defense of benzophenones.

[Actually, before you spread this stuff on your skin, you may wish to know that it is made (according to the Wikipedia) by the reaction of benzene with carbon tetrachloride followed by hydrolysis of the resulting diphenyldichloromethane, or by Friedel-Crafts acylation of benzene with benzoyl chloride in the presence of a Lewis acid (e.g. aluminum chloride) catalyst. There. If responsibility for killing corel won't dissuade you, maybe knowing how these chemicals are made will.)

Next, ban them from airplanes. The TSA should be alerted so that no one smuggles on any benzophenones, which are even more dangerous sounding than bottled water or toothpaste.


I remember when our Planning Dept. was going around the island seeking input for the current Hawaii County General Plan in 2004 and someone who lives in Oceanview and fishes along the coastline told them that the reefs in the area had scum on them and he suspected that it had something to do with sunscreen. But of course no one believed him since he came from generations of ocean experience that isn't valued by the American system these days.
Also, according to what I have been reading, sunscreen is not only bad for the coral reef but also bad for humans because it blocks the body from getting Vitamin D from the sun and low Vitamin D contributes to more cancers.
Its not only the tourists that use sunscreen. Many tourists become residents. So its the residents who are killing coral too. Josephine.

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