A chemical found in sunscreen is killing fragile coral reefs around the world.
Many factors are upsetting the delicate system of coral reefs such as oil spills, uncontrolled fishing and global warming. The newest to make the list is sunscreen which may be protecting humans from sunburn and cancer but it is killing coral reefs around the world
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Researchers from Haereticus Environmental Laboratory have found that oxebenzone, a UV filtering compound, used in sunscreen lotions and personal care products, is damaging coral reefs. It not only kills adult coral reef cells but deforms the DNA in the larval stage which ultmately hampers its growth and development. The highest concentrations of oxebenzone were found in most popular reef sites among visitors such as Caribbean and Hawaii.
“Coral reefs are the world’s most productive marine ecosystems and support commercial and recreational fisheries and tourism. “In addition, reefs protect coastlines from storm surge. Worldwide, the total value of coral reefs is tremendous. And they are in danger.”John Fauth, a professor at University of Central Florida and one of the authors of the study said in a statement.
Researchers collected the samples of corals reefs in Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Eilat, Israel diving into the water themselves and exposed them to increasing concentrations of oxybenzone. The results were shocking as organic compound tripped larval coral in its own skeleton and caused to disperse them.
Oxybenzone takes the algae out of coral reef that normally live inside it and deprives it from its main source of nutrition. This coral bleaching is a primary cause of coral reef mortality worldwide. Three of the seven species of coral reefs, which were researched, are listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act.
“We have lost at least 80 percent of the coral reefs in the Caribbean,” said Craig Downs, lead author of the study. “Any small effort to reduce oxybenzone pollution could mean that a coral reef survives a long, hot summer, or that a degraded area recovers. Everyone wants to build coral nurseries for reef restoration, but this will achieve little if the factors that originally killed off the reef remain or intensify in the environment.”
“The use of oxybenzone-containing products needs to be seriously deliberated in islands and areas where coral reef conservation is a critical issue.”
Some 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion arrives in coral reef sites around the world so it's important that visitors especially divers should think twice before lathering it up.
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“Wear rash guards or scuba wetsuits and skip all the hygienic products when you go diving,” said Fauth. “If we could do it for a week at a time, people can certainly forgo it for a few hours to help protect these reefs for our children and their children to see.”