Since a lightie, sunscreen has been apart of my daily routine, especially so considering my old man is a doctor. I was always told to apply it liberally, whether I was building a sandcastle, snorkelling or surfing. I mean let’s be honest, not many things can make you feel more self-conscious than a rooi face out on the jol. In December, backline turns into a rave party with all the coloured zinc out there. Anyway, the point is, slapping on your chosen SPF was effectively mandatory, cause you know – skin cancer is gnarly. Well, Hawaii may just about turn this concept on its pip.
With the invention of waterproof sunscreen in 1977 and the rise of sun-safety campaigns, the smell of sunscreen became the new eau de toilette of the beach. This is all set to change if you live in Hawaii that is. Recent research suggests that oxybenzone and octinoxate, which show up in almost all major sunscreens, are harmful to the marine ecosystem. Well now, it seems as if we have a bit of a moral dilemma on our sunscreen coated hands. Do we end up resembling an old leather by the time we’re 40 or damage a part of the ocean floor essential for life on earth?
In a 2015 study, oxybenzone and octinoxate were found to contribute to coral bleaching, limit coral growth, and can cause distress to marine species (agitating gills for example). The study found the chemicals in especially high concentrations in popular tourist waters, especially in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In response, some resorts and tour companies have chosen to ban or educate against nonbiodegradable sunscreens and promote “reef friendly” alternative lotions instead. These will be comprised of natural mineral ingredients such as titanium oxide or zinc oxide. Hawaii, seemingly unwilling to walk the same line as Australia with the Great Barrier Reef has become the first state to ban the sale of sunscreen containing the two harmful chemicals. The new legislation is not set to come into effect until 2021, bureaucracy moves slowly it seems.
This timeline will provide companies with plenty time to switch over to a more environmentally formula leaving producers with two options: continue offering chemical sunscreens that do not contain (oxybenzone and octinoxate) or switch over to natural, mineral-based sunblocks.
Producers, however, have seemed unwilling to adapt thus far, in fact, they opposed Hawaii’s legislative efforts altogether. These companies have rather opted for the ‘blame game’ option pointing to the “real” causes of coral bleaching, scapegoating climate change, agricultural runoff, sewage and overfishing for the decline of coral. If you ask me, this is a cheap tactic where they would rather pour money into lobbying and campaigning rather than developing safer products.
In refusing to tackle this ecological issue head-on, major sunscreen brands have put the onus on environmentally conscious consumers (and resorts) to seek out atypical reef-friendly options. Who didn’t see that coming? If you ask me, if we’re going to take environmental preservation seriously, the onus must be on producers, not consumers, to recognize and prevent the damage their products can do.
To learn more about coral reefs, check out the infographic below, just have a click.