Hawaii is ready to become the first state in the United States to ban the sale of sunscreen chemicals that are toxic to coral reefs and marine life.
A new bill, that would ban the sale of the sunscreens containing two types of chemicals toxic to the ocean, was passed by the Hawaii state legislature Tuesday and will now go the governor’s office for signing.
The only negative to take out of this is that the bill would not take effect till 2021. Some of Hawaii’s popular beaches are actually being closed for a day or two to try and allow for the tide to push fresh water over reefs after a busy weekend due to all the sunscreen residue leftover from beachgoers.
The lead time on this ban gives sunscreen manufacturers an opportunity to explore alternative options. Sunscreen manufacturers need to consider how to make their products reef safe and how to communicate with consumers about how to use their products safely and effectively.
Oxybenzone and octinoxate are the culprits behind the damage occurring in the world’s oceans. Research has shown that chemicals break down coral by leaching it of nutrients and disrupt the development of fish and marine life, like sea urchins and algae.
About 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion ends up in coral reefs around the world each year, according to a study published in 2015 in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. The highest concentrations of sunscreen were found in tourist-filled beaches, like many in Hawaii and the Caribbean Islands.
Beachgoers aren’t the only ones hurting the ocean. Rivers can be a source of pollution as well, and inland adventurers tend to shower eventually, washing their sunscreen off into the drain. From there, it can eventually reach the ocean.
In Hawaii, a study conducted last year by the nonprofit Haereticus Environmental Laboratory at the iconic snorkeling spot Hanauma Bay found that the nearly 2,600 average daily visitors left about 412 pounds of sunscreen in the ocean.
There are more sunscreen options hitting the market that are reef safe. A couple of the most popular options include Raw Elements and Stream2Sea. Hopefully, this law will help other states and countries make the decision to ban the toxic ingredients and promote a culture that is more sensitive to protecting our fragile environment.