By Benjamin Flowers
An ingredient in sun screen is causing major damage to coral reefs, reveales a new study.
A team of marine scientists from Virginia, Florida, Israel, the National Aquarium (US) and the US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration published the study on Tuesday, showing that the chemical oxybenzone is damaging to reefs, even in small amounts.
The chemical which washes off swimmers and also enters into oceans through municipal sewage outfalls, can be found in over 3,500 sun screen products worldwide.
The study, conducted on coral reefs in Hawaii and the US Virgin Islands, demonstrates that exposure of coral planulae (baby coral) to oxybenzone, produces gross morphological deformities, damages their DNA, and causes the coral to encase itself in its own skeleton, leading to death.
These effects were observed as low as 62 parts per trillion, the equivalent to a drop of water in six and a half Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Measurements of oxybenzone in seawater within coral reefs in the test sites found concentrations ranging from 800 parts per trillion to 1.4 parts per million: over 12 times higher than the concentrations necessary to adversely impact coral.
Dr. Craig Downs of Haereticus Environmental Laboratory Virginia, explained that the presence of oxybenzone in oceans will offset any efforts at reef restoration, and therefore must be addressed promptly.
“Any small effort to reduce oxybenzone pollution could mean that a coral reef survives a long, hot summer, or that a degraded area recovers”, Downs said.
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 per cent oxybenzone.
In 2014, Belize saw over one million tourists, many of whom come to enjoy the marine life, and also use sunscreen.
In May, several conservation organizations gathered for the presentation of the 2015 Reef Report Card, which showed that Belize’s Barrier Reef scored a 2.8 out of five on the regional standard, but was still considered to be in poor condition.