Governor of Hawaii, David Ige, made Hawaii the first state in the union to ban the sale of sunscreens that contain chemicals known to be harmful to coral reefs. Although not all parties are pleased with the move, Ige felt it was one way to help protect the coral reefs of his home state which are known around the world for their natural beauty. Merchants carrying sunscreens will have until January of 2021 to cease the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. Ige also felt that the delayed effective date would provide ample time for sunscreen manufacturers to create and produce new formulations free from chemicals harmful to the reefs.
Sunscreen, which often comes off while swimming or playing in the ocean, bleaches the reefs which gives them a lighter appearance and can also contribute to their death. It is an effect that is similar to the application of pesticides or sewage to the reefs. It is estimated by the Department of Land and Natural Resources, as reported by Mic, that 55 gallons of sunscreen are near or in the water around Maui alone, each day. At that rate, coral bleaching contributed to the loss of about half of the world’s reefs in 2014 and 2015.
While environmentalists and most residents of Hawaii applaud approval of the legislation, some merchants have worried the move may hurt at the cash register as about 70% of all common sunscreens now on the market would fall under this ban. Various health organizations have also voiced concern, including the Skin Cancer Foundation. Their primary concern hinges upon the theory that providing people with fewer sunscreen choices may lead to fewer people using sunscreen which in turn would lead to more cases of skin cancer.
Environmentalists have taken the stance that without action now, the coral reefs of Hawaii will only suffer more unnecessary damage. According to Mother Jones, State Rep. Chris Lee said the measure was necessary to protect the state’s remaining corals.
“I’m 37 now, and within my lifetime, our planet has lost about half our coral reefs. We’ve got to taken action today to protect that other half as best we can. We know the tide is against us. We’ve got a limited amount of time.”
Sen. Mike Gabbard, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Environment, and the man responsible for introducing the legislation, hailed it as the gold standard for the world to follow.
“This is a historic bill for our oceans. By taking the lead on banning these dangerous chemicals in sunscreens, we’ve started a tidal wave which will help bring our coral reefs back to life,” he told KHON2 News. “I hope we can look back 20 years from now and see this as a moment we turned the corner on pollution and witnessed this law being replicated globally.”