SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 11, April 2016 - Page 98

few weeks ago, much of North America complained as Daylight Saving Time began and clocks skipped 2 a.m. in

exchange for later summer sunsets. This means spring (break) is in the air once again for the Northern Hemisphere, which also means summer vacation is just around the corner! You probably have pleasant thoughts when you think of summer. Maybe it’s sunrise at the shore. Maybe you think of s’mores by a campfire on a cool summer night. Maybe you get antsy just thinking about time off from work or school and all of the good memories you’ll make with friends and family at backyard barbecues. Regardless of your warm weather routine, sunscreen is a must-have as protection from the harmful UV rays we so often hear about. Would you be shocked, though, if I told you your trusty sunscreen had the potential to do more harm than good?

A study published in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology in

October 2015 found that a common chemical in sunscreens may be linked with damage to coral.

The chemical, called oxybenzone, has been shown to interrupt hormones and cause DNA

damage in different species of coral. The result of these damages may be bleaching, an event in which the coral loses its vibrant color as the algae that help them survive are affected. Oxybenzone may, as a result, kill coral reefs.

Coral polyps and the algae that provide them with their food are sensitive organisms, not

in that they cry over cute animal videos on Youtube, but in that they can only survive in a narrow range of conditions including temperature, salinity, and acidity; even slight changes in conditions can be disastrous. In addition to warming waters, marine pollution, boat anchors, reckless tourists, and even disease already impacting these delicate animals, oxybenzone in sunscreen may make survival that much more difficult. The point here is that sunscreen is not single handedly destroying the coral reefs of the world, but that it is a stressor that wouldn’t be added to the environment if we all took a few extra seconds to read the label before making a sunscreen purchase.

To backtrack a little, coral reefs are important to marine ecosystems because, while they

cover a modest one percent of the ocean floor, reefs provide habitat to an estimated one million unique species of fish, invertebrates, and plants. These rainforests of the sea offset manmade carbon emissions as the algae that live inside the coral polyps use carbon molecules to produce food. Reefs also sustain communities economically thanks to their popularity as tourist destinations and hotspots for fishing. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Conservation Program

Drops in the Ocean

Common Sunscreen Chemical Bad for Reefs

By Marcus Reamer