Your Sunscreen is Slowly Killing the Ocean’s Coral Reefs

DIGEST [NPR, Christian Science Monitor, Washington Post, Smithsonian, EWG]

A key ingredient in many sunscreen products is contributing to the rapid decline of coral reefs around the planet, according to findings in a new study published in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. Scientists, including researchers from the United States and Israel, found high concentrations of oxybenzone near coral reefs in Hawaii, Israel and the Caribbean. The ingredient has been found to damage or kill the delicate reef structures. However, the chemical can be devastating even in low doses: The Christian Science Monitor reports that just a tiny amount of oxybenzone — 62 parts per trillion, or a drop of water in six Olympic-sized swimming pools — can be toxic to fragile young coral. In higher concentrations, it can also prove fatal to adult coral.

Second Nexus
Source: Credit.

Oxybenzone damages coral reefs by breaking down the coral material, robbing it of life-giving nutrients and turning it ghostly white in a deadly condition known as coral bleaching, the Monitor reports. The chemicals can also coat and encapsulate the algae, leading to die-offs.


Coral reefs are becoming “bleached” due to another factor: The warming seas. Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that a massive, worldwide coral bleaching event is underway. Coral bleaching occurs when warm ocean waters stress the reefs and cause them to shed the symbiotic algae that provide color and nutrients to the structures. Without these algae, the whitened coral can die off.

Reefs that are already suffering due to sunscreen-borne pollutants, however, are particularly vulnerable to warming waters. Nancy Knowlton, an expert on coral reefs with the Smithsonian Institution, told the Post, “No reefs that experience unusually warm waters are likely to escape unscathed, but reefs already suffering from overfishing and pollution may have a particularly rough time recovering, based on what we have learned from past bleaching events.”

Mark Eakin, who heads NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch, told the Post that 95 percent of all U.S. coral reefs are expected to see ocean temperatures that can lead to bleaching sometime

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