In a recent study sunscreens cause viral infections in the coral. These viral infections cause coral bleaching1, which then in turn can cause them to die. The department of marine sciences at the Polytechnic University of the Marche tested a variety of sunscreens in both the lab and out in the ocean and came to the conclusion that even at very low levels of sunscreen corals are subjected to viral infections. These viral infections cause the fast and complete bleaching of corals. So the awesome brightly colored coral you see on the discovery channel is slowly turning white.
Human pollution has caused devastation on our oceans since past individuals decided it was a large enough trash can to dump into (where the pollution would be minimal and undetectable). This idea couldn’t have been more wrong. Now with the addition of global warming and greenhouse gas emissions coral bleaching is one of the many of problems our generation has to deal with and it is up to us to make some changes so we can effectively reduce the damage.
Sunscreen is a complex formula and different companies have taken an intense advantage of the public’s fear of skin cancer when playing outdoors. Companies publicize high SPF numbers as well as unproven natural ingredients for the best protection and tan. This is where the problem arises, when certain chemicals are used in sunscreens they can leak into the water you are swimming in and contribute to coral bleaching. If you are lucky enough to be enjoying the beautiful and colorful coral reef while snorkeling chances are that if your sunscreen is not environmentally friendly, you may be destroying that reef without even knowing it.
All it takes is just a few drops of the wrong sunscreen trickling off your body and into the water to trigger coral bleaching and this effect is multiplied by every other person snorkeling with the wrong sunscreen as well. Since there are millions of tourists that release tons and tons of sunscreen into our oceans annually by changing your sunscreen choice you can stop adding to this problem. Using sunscreen that contains physical UV filters such as kaolin, zinc oxide or titanium dioxide instead of chemical ones has been seen to be safer for coral reefs as well as many plant additives, however once the words in the ingredients are complicated and unpronounceable avoid at all costs.
Coral bleaching can be prevented and should. We can preserve and not destroy these life supporting living creatures. Share your knowledge with others so more people understand the devastating effects certain sunscreens have on these wonderful and beautiful coral reefs. Lets together bring back the coral reefs so our children and their children can enjoy them as we have for many years.
Key: coral bleaching1: corals will expel the algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white. When a coral bleaches, it is not dead. Corals can survive a bleaching event, but they are under more stress and are subject to mortality.
Sunscreens cause coral bleaching by promoting viral infections, Danovaro R, Bongiorni L,Corinaldesi C, Giovannelli D, Damiani E, Astolfi P, Greci L, Pusceddu A. 2008. Environmental Health Perspectives 116(4): 441-447.