Sunscreen: the enemy of coral

Coral is a necessary part of the natural underwater ecosystem of wildlife and marine flora. It is a microscopic animal and not a plant, (contrary to popular belief!), and they live in colonies, building external skeletons. The cumulative skeletons of several generations create the coral reef.

In 2008, a study revealed the toxic effect sunscreen has on coral and aquatic environments. In effect, the cream is made up of a mixture of chemical filters, which, when applied to the skin disperse in the water. This causes coral bleaching and ultimately leads to their death within 2-4 days. For example, the chemical component titanium dioxide serves to filter the ultraviolet rays, protecting our skin, but when it’s in the water it stimulates the development of an infection which destroys the zooxanthelle, a micro algae that is necessary for the development of coral. Around 4000 to 6000 tons of sunscreens (including waterproof sunscreen) is found in the seas and oceans, resulting in 50% of the coral reefs being in poor health.

Of course, with the increase of tourism in popular snorkelling spots, sun protection is a real threat to the coral and the ecosystem, however it is not the only culprit in damaging the corals. Global warming and pollution contribute massively too. It is predicted that tourism in the Mediterranean will increase from 202 million in 2013 to 264 million by 2030. If this carries on at the forecasted rate, in 20 years time it is likely that all the coral in the world will have died. Obviously this would be a huge tragedy and would have further harmful consequences for:

-Underwater biodiversity, as many species live and seek shelter in corals
-Tourism, the beautiful reefs will no longer draw in snorkelers/ divers who contribute to the local economies
-Paradise islands, without a barrier formed by the coral, would not long withstand coastal erosion

Fortunately, certain areas are starting to take measures against this; some areas prohibit the use of highly chemical sunscreens, such as the Tulum Biosphere Reserve in Mexico.

There are sunscreen certified nontoxic (generally organic) for coral and marine environment which are a much better alternative! These are mineral sunscreens, nanoparticle-free, PEG-free and paraben-free. Some luxury hotels are beginning to offer this sunscreen to their customers…But the best solution is always just a UV t-shirt and a cap!