SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 11, April 2016 - Page 103

estimated that reefs around the world contributed around $30 billion USD to the global market each year.

According to the National Parks Service, 4,000 to 6,000 tons (that’s between 8 million and 12 million pounds) of sunscreen enter our oceans annually by washing off the skin of people,

meaning marine life, and corals, in particular, are literally living in and eating the stuff. You

may think sunscreen will spread across the vast ocean and never harm reefs, but the National Parks Service points out that these chemicals remain concentrated on popular tourist sites. Since the majority of marine tourism activities, including snorkeling and diving, occur near only 10% of the world’s coral reefs, this means oxybenzone concentrations are much higher in destinations such as the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. With extensive coral bleaching events in 2015 and continuing into 2016, what can we do to offset this surprising threat?

One easy way to help protect the reefs we love while preventing skin cancer is to substitute clothing for sunscreen where possible—if it’s not on your skin, it won’t wash off in the water. Instead of lathering up before you snorkel, you could opt for a rash guard or a similar lightweight, long-sleeved shirt. On the water or at the beach you could opt for a hat, sunglasses, and lightweight clothing as well. These options, as reef friendly as they may be, are not always practical, and I get that. If you have to use sunscreen (and dermatologists certainly think you should), take a moment to read the labels of your usual choices and pick one that contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, natural mineral compounds that are safer alternatives to oxybenzone. There aren’t any sunscreens that are proven to be 100% environmentally friendly, but even the smallest of changes can make a huge difference over time.

To make things easier for you now that I’ve made you feel guilty for following the doctor’s orders, I’ll just tell you three of my favorite sunscreens that are oxybenzone-free (check out Earth Day products we recommend, including sunscreen, on page 122 of this issue). First is Badger

Sport Sunscreen Cream. Zinc oxide based and containing very few other ingredients, Badger Sport is biodegradable, comes in SPF 15 to 35, is not tested on animals, and is 94% organic. You can find more about Badger Sport Sunscreen Cream on Amazon or at badgerbalm.com. Second is True Natural which offers protection up to SPF 50 and even comes in pet and baby-safe formulas. True Natural sunscreen is designed for those with sensitive skin and lacks chemical additives beyond the zinc oxide and titanium dioxide required for sun protection. True Natural is available on Amazon or at truenatural.com. A third alternative is Sunology natural sunscreen. Available in SPF 50 and modestly priced, Sunology’s biodegradable formula relies on zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to protect from UVA and UVB rays. Since none of these brands have given us money to say nice things about them, I’m also able to tell you a simple web search for “oxybenzone-free sunscreen” will also help in discovering products that are safer for marine life but also fit your lifestyle needs and budget.

The moral of the story here is that there is still so much we haven’t figured out about our

oceans, the precious life beneath the waves, and how our modern lives can unintentionally

impact the world around us. Thanks to scientific studies such as the one that found the link

between oxybenzone and coral health, we are finding answers to questions we didn’t even know we had and can move forward in finding solutions. In the meantime, we as consumers can pressure large cosmetic companies to clearly label the contents of their products and, hopefully, inspire them to remove harmful chemicals such as oxybenzone from their products to create a cleaner future for our land, our air, and our seas.

Marcus is a graduate student made of at least 40% recycled plastic studying marine conservation at the University of Miami. He is also a Project Coordinator at SEVENSEAS.

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