The Great Barrier Reef, the Amazon Reef and the Tubbataha Reef are just a few of the magnificent coral reefs that decorate the earth. Although reefs only occupy about 0.1% of the ocean, they support 25% of marine species, according to the WWF, meaning that they are absolutely vital to many ecosystems. About half of coral reefs around the world are already gone which is alarming considering how important they are to the survival of so many animals. Pollution, coastal destruction and overfishing are the biggest contributors to this loss, and some of the chemicals present in most sunscreen lotions also cause a lot of damage to reefs. That doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to protect your skin and still be environmentally friendly though, luckily, we are here to help!
Why are coral reefs important?
Coral reefs play a huge role in the ocean for many different animals. They act as protection against the damaging effects of wave action and storms whilst also providing shelter for animals. Alongside this, they provide nutrients for marine food chains as they are a source of nitrogen. Destruction of coral reefs results in a lack of biodiversity which is essential to maintaining healthy ecosystems.
How Does Sunscreen Usage Damage Reefs?
Chemical sunscreens are designed to absorb ultraviolet radiation like a sponge and use ingredients such as oxybenzone, octinoxate and homosalate. These ingredients wash off when you’re swimming in the ocean and can be absorbed by the coral, with National Geographic estimating that 14,000 tons of sunscreen end up in the ocean every year. These damaging chemicals have been shown to make coral more susceptible to bleaching which deforms baby coral and causes damage to coral DNA and reproduction. In short, these sunscreens stop the production of new, healthy coral so the current coral dies away without any replacement.
Even if swimming does not always result in the washing off of non-eco-friendly sunscreen straight away, it will eventually wash off in the shower and go down the drain, which in turn can end up in the river and ultimately the ocean.
How You Can Help
It’s not all doom and gloom though, there are plenty of ways to help save the coral reefs! As a matter of fact, this is a topic that is raising more and more awareness. Some destinations, such as Hawaii and Palau already have bans in place to remove harmful sunscreens from their beaches. There are plenty of steps you can take yourself, and here’s what we recommend:
There are loads of high-quality reef safe products out there that allow you to explore the ocean without damaging any of its wildlife. Be sure to check ingredient lists when shopping for your next holiday and make sure you avoid products that contain harmful chemicals; oxybenzone is the most prominent harmful chemical, so keep your eyes peeled.
We would recommend Sun Bum Mineral Sunscreen Lotion which is vegan and hypoallergenic, Thinksport Sunscreen which provides high levels of UVA and UVB protection and incognito Second Skin Suncream which is made with renewable Sugarcane plastic packaging and donates 10% of its profits to charities.
Be sure to check that your sunscreen does not contain plastic either, as microbeads have not yet been banned from leave-on products. Microbeads are plastic particles that do not degrade or dissolve in water, meaning they are collected in the ocean and have a negative effect on the marine food chain.
Research Your Destination
Many hotels and lodges are keen to preserve their local environment and are knowledgeable about the harmfulness of some sunscreens, so they should be able to give you advice about eco-friendly safety in the sun. Research your hotel, lodge or villa beforehand to learn about their green initiatives. Some eco-properties even offer their guests’ reef safe suncream, such as Bawah Reserve in Indonesia. Check out the Kiwano approved hotels and lodges to find the perfect eco-property for you!
Wear Safe Clothing
If you are planning on going out in the sun you should always wear a high SPF sunscreen to protect yourself from burning and other more serious problems. There are also other steps aside from an eco-friendly sunscreen you can take yourself to ensure that your fun in the sun is safe.
Wearing hats, shirts and other clothing that incorporate UV production can reduce sunscreen usage dramatically, by up to 90% according to The Independent. We would also recommend taking cover under an umbrella or trees for the hottest hours of the day to reduce the chances of burning.
Stay Safe and Protect the Reefs!
Whenever your next holiday is planned for, be careful to make the right decisions when it comes to choosing your sunscreen so that you can make a splash without making a mess of the precious coral reefs.
If you would like to help us raise awareness on the environmental impact of sunscreen, please share this article.
Kiwano can help you towards the first step of becoming a green traveller by providing a list of approved green accommodations for you to stay at and giving you further tips on how to stay green as a traveller.