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Can Sunscreen Damage Coral Reefs?

– New York, NY


Oxybenzone, a chemical in sunblock, protects users against UV rays but may have a negative effect on the environment. Researchers have been investigating sea anemones and mushroom corals that are exposed to oxybenzone and UV light and turn the oxybenzone into a toxin. Algae living nearby can soak up the toxin and lessen the extent of their damages, but coral reefs that don’t have as much algae become more vulnerable.


The vulnerable coral reefs can unintentionally remove helpful algae and turn white, which also occurs as a result of climate change. Climate change and sunscreen pollution, especially combined, pose a strong threat to coral reefs and their ecosystems. Studies have shown that oxybenzone can kill young corals and stop adult corals from recovering, so some places have banned sunscreens containing oxybenzone.


However, it is still somewhat unclear as to how much oxybenzone is toxic to coral reefs or if it is toxic at all. Some researchers argue that the results of the study are slightly unreliable, as there are factors that may change depending on how the study is conducted. For example, testing in a lab versus in natural environments can yield different results. Scientists are continuing to research this issue and determine what needs to be done regarding oxybenzone and other related chemicals.


In the meantime, there are a variety of other ways that can help us protect coral reefs, such as Recycling and getting rid of trash properly, using environmentally-friendly forms of transportation if possible, and conserving water and energy if possible. Purchasing mineral-based sunscreens when possible, such as zinc oxide or titanium oxide, utilizing marine safe products, and supporting organizations that advocate for coral reefs are just a few more ways to get involved.


Considering how important this issue is to the environment, scientists will undoubtedly search until they discover if oxybenzone and other chemicals do impact coral reefs. Hopefully, initiatives like these will create a more sustainable future for coral reefs in general.

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