Coral reefs and sunshine keep tourists flocking to Hawaii but, add sunscreen to that holiday mix, and the result can be serious damage to the marine environment that makes the islands so attractive to visitors in the first place.
On July 3 Hawaii Governor David Ige signed legislation that will ban the sale of sunscreens containing two chemicals believed to harm coral reefs, making Hawaii the first US state to ban sunscreens that are harmful to coral reefs. The ban will come into place in January 2021.
The bill focuses on two chemicals – oxybenzone and octinoxate – that are found in many sunscreens and notes that they “have significant harmful impacts on Hawaii’s marine environment and residing ecosystems.” It indicates that high levels of these chemicals have been found at popular swimming beaches and reef areas, including Waimea Bay, Hanauma Bay, and Waikiki Beach on Oahu and Honolua Bay and Ahihi-Kinau natural area reserve on Maui.
A study in 2015, published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, found the chemicals have a range of effects on coral, including mortality in developing coral, bleaching of coral and genetic damage to coral and other organisms. It also found both chemicals can induce feminization in adult male fish and increase reproductive diseases in creatures from sea urchins to parrotfish and mammal species similar to the Hawaiian monk seal. The chemicals can also induce neurological behavioral changes in fish and have possible impact on the many endangered species found in Hawaii’s waters, including sea turtles.
The study found oxybenzone had a toxic effect at a concentration of 62 parts per trillion – equivalent to one drop in six-and-a-half Olympic-size swimming pools.
“This is the first real chance that local reefs have to recover,” said Craig Downs, a scientist whose 2015 peer-reviewed study found oxybenzone was a threat to coral reefs. He found up to 14,000 tonnes of sunscreen lotion ends up in coral reefs each year. “Lots of things kill coral reefs but we know oxybenzone prevents them from coming back.”
Authorities in other marine park locations – such as the Virgin Islands, south Florida and destinations in Mexico – have already been taking measures to encourage visitors to use sunscreens made with biodegradable chemicals such as zinc oxide and titanium oxide.
1. sunscreen n.
(fang2 shai4 you2)
2. chemical n.
(hua4 xue2 cheng2 fen4)
3. coral reef phr.
(shan1 hu2 jiao1)
4. lotion n.
(ru3 yi4; hu4 fu1 yi4 )
5. biodegradable adj.
(sheng1 wu4 suo3 neng2 fen1 jie3 de5)
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