Think Twice about your Sunscreen
I recently went on a diving trip to Cozumel, Mexico. The coral reefs are beautiful, and they are starting to recover from Hurricane Wilma. Everywhere you look there are corals, sponges, crabs, fish, sea stars, and much, much more, and every diver is eager to do one thing – jump in! The water is refreshing, but on the boat the sun beats down on you and quickly causes sunburn. Naturally I slapped on the all-important sunscreen to prevent my skin from being fried. When I returned from my trip I was unpleasantly surprised to learn that my sunscreen may have harmed the corals that were so amazing.
An article titled Beat the Sun, Kill the Reefs in the May 2008 issue of SCUBA Diving states that some chemicals in sunscreen activates dormant viruses that reside within coral polyps. These viruses kill symbiotic algae that the corals need to survive. Without these algae the corals bleach and turn white then eventually die. An estimated 16,000 to 25,000 tons of sunscreen is used in tropical countries a year, which may release as much as 4,000 to 6,000 tons of sunscreen in reef areas around the world.
What can you do about this problem if you are heading for the coastline? Check your labels! The problem lies in sunscreens that employ chemical filters that absorb ultraviolet radiation. Avoid sunscreens that use derivatives of paraben, cinnamate, benzophenone and camphor. Buy sunscreens that use physical filters instead that scatter and reflect UV radiation, which usually contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Happy diving!
Posted by Stephanie Hollister
Zookeeper, Butterfly Pavilion