Living in the Cayman Islands we are blessed with some of the best weather in one of the most beautiful locations. With all the fabulous sunshine, one has to take care of their skin but what about taking care of the ocean and its coral reefs at the same time? This article is going to delve into the importance of reef safe sunscreen, what to look out for and where to buy on island!
What is “reef safe” sunscreen and why should I buy it?
Even if you have no plans to snorkel around coral reefs, you still make an impact on marine ecosystems. At a time when these fragile systems are experiencing one of the worst coral bleaching events on record, one of the most important things to consider when choosing a sunscreen is, “Is it reef safe?”
The NOAA National Center for Coastal Ocean Science and partners have found a link between sunscreen chemicals and coral bleaching. To summarize the findings of the study published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal:
- Corals are highly sensitive organisms that are prone to bleaching at the slightest stress, making even low concentrations of chemicals potentially harmful.
- The chemicals that filter ultraviolet (UV) light can activate latent viral infections in the symbiotic micro algae that the corals rely on for nutrition.
- Seawater surrounding coral exposed to sunscreen contained up to 15 times more viruses than unexposed samples.
- The ingredients found in sunscreens that should be avoided around reefs, that also have shown potentially harmful effects on humans, are octinoxate (also known as ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate), oxybenzone, parabens and octocrylene.
- The researchers estimate that 4000-6000 metric tons of sunscreen washes off swimmers and snorkelers into coral reef environments, and that up to 10% of the world’s reefs are at risk for bleaching due to sunscreen runoff.
What should I look out for when buying sunscreen?
No one is governing whether or not a product labeled as “reef safe” is in fact safe for our reefs. The following is a cheat sheet of the ingredients that have been shown to cause coral bleaching even at low levels:
- 4-Methylbenzylidine Camphor
Look for a brand that uses physical sunblocks such as titanium or zinc oxide instead of chemical ones. If you want to decide between the two, zinc oxide is proven to block both UVA and UVB rays whereas titanium oxide primarily only blocks UVB rays.
What are some brands I can buy here on Island and where?
There are many options out there for you to choose from and it can get overwhelming: all natural, biodegradable, eco-friendly, organic, reef safe, waterproof, creams, gels, spray….the list goes on.
On island there are a few brands that you can get your hands on, unfortunately the prices are more than your typical sunscreen – but can you really put a price on the continued survival of our coral reef ecosystems?