Pacific Island Bans Sunscreens That Are Harmful To Coral Reefs In World-First Initiative

Isabel Leah Cohen - Author

Nov. 2 2018, Updated 3:34 a.m. ET

The Pacific island nation of Papau has recently passed a new law to restrict the use of certain types of sunscreen that have been proven harmful to coral reef health, reports CNN. Coral reefs are essential elements in marine ecosystems that support biodiversity and prevent beach erosion.

Papau is not the first to pass laws to limit the use of potentially harmful substances found in sunscreen. This past summer, Hawaii decided to ban the sale and distribution of any sunscreens that contain oxybenzone or octinoxate without a prescription. The ban, which goes into effect in 2021, follows the results of research studies that found these two ingredients to cause bleaching, deformities, DNA damage, and ultimately death in coral.

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In a statement, president of Palau, Tommy Remengesau, commented on the Responsible Tourism Education Act of 2018, the law that will limit certain types of sunscreen, writes CNN.

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“Plastic waste, chemical pollution, resource over-consumption and climate change all continue to threaten the health of our pristine paradise. The steps taken in this legislation will help ensure both visitors and locals alike are more aware of the role they play in conservation.”

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The law, coming into effect on January 1, 2020, will prohibit the sale and import of “reef-toxic sunscreens.” Tourists that bring the banned substances into the country will have their products confiscated while retailers selling any banned products could receive a fine up to $1,000.

In addition to the sunscreen restrictions, the act also limits the sale of plastic and non-biodegradable substances. It will require tour operators to provide “a reusable alternative” to plastic or polystyrene bottles, cups, straws, and containers.

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Palau’s restrictions will include the substances oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, triclosan, and several parabens. The tourism ministry identified these substances as “known or strongly suspected to cause endocrine disruption and other damage to marine wildlife such as corals, fish and invertebrates, but also humans.”

CNN quotes data from the Oceanic Society on how much sunscreen is found in coral ecosystems.

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“Between 6,000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen — the equivalent of 25 to 60 million bottles — wash off of snorkelers and swimmers into coral reef environments each year.”

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The society advises reef divers and swimmers to use protective clothing and “reef-safe” sunscreens to protect themselves from harmful sun rays.

Experts agree that while there is a growing concern for the health of coral reefs and the harmful effects of chemicals found in sunscreens, swimmers should also consider using “reef-safe” sunscreens regardless of where they swim. The chemicals found in many sunscreens can also prove harmful to other ocean environments and organisms.


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