CLIFFORD, Virginia – A study published in a toxicology journal found that a chemical widely used in personal care products such as sunscreen poses an ecological threat to corals and coral reefs and threatens their existence.
It only takes one drop of that chemical, oxybenzone, to cause disaster.
Oxybenzone is found in over 3,500 sunscreen products worldwide. It pollutes coral reefs from swimmers wearing sunscreens and through wastewater discharges from municipal sewage outfalls and coastal septic systems.
“The use of oxybenzone-containing products needs to be seriously deliberated in islands and areas where coral reef conservation is a critical issue,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Craig Downs of Haereticus Environmental Laboratory Virginia.
“We have lost at least 80% of the coral reefs in the Caribbean. 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.”
Between 6,000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion are emitted into coral reef areas each year, much of which contains between one and 10% oxybenzone.
The results of the study which was conducted in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Hawaii, come less than two weeks after NOAA declared the third-ever global coral bleaching event and warned that locally produced threats to coral, such as pollution, stress the health of corals and decrease the likelihood they will resist bleaching or recover from it.
It demonstrates that exposure of coral planulae (baby coral) to oxybenzone, produces gross morphological deformities, damages their DNA and, most alarmingly, acts as an endocrine disruptor. The latter causes the coral to encase itself in its own skeleton leading to death.