Palau Ban Sunscreen To Protect Coral Reefs

December 20, 2018

When you meet the Sunshine Beach, sunscreen products definitely a necessity. However, in addition to looking at the sun protection features, it is necessary to pay attention to its chemical substances. Recently, the famous coral reef resort officially passed the bill, and the country will impose a ban in 2020 to completely limit the sale and use of sunscreens and skin care products containing illegal chemicals.

Located in the western Pacific Ocean, a large volcanic island and several small coral reef islands around it,  Palau become the first country in the world to ban the use of sunscreen products. The biggest reason is to protect the fragile coral reefs. Researchers believe that certain ingredients of sunscreens and related chemicals are highly toxic to marine life and are more likely to whiten coral reefs.

After the implementation of the ban, once the retailer violates the law, the government will immediately impose a fine of $1,000. President Tommy Remengesau said in the statement: "The ban should have sufficient deterrent effect to curb the non-commercial use of sunscreen. The new rule is a wise decision to strike a balance between education and the reduction of tourists."


How much threat does sunscreen pose to coral reef ecology? Experts say that the number one threat to coral reefs is still climate change. It is said that nearly 90% of the world's coral reefs will die in 2050 due to rising ocean temperatures. The second major threat is the massive proliferation of algae and the destruction of the environment in which coral reefs grow. Relatively speaking, sunscreen is currently less threatening. However, the average person has underestimated the impact of sunscreen products eroding the ocean. It is estimated that between 6,000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotions per year will eventually flow into the coral reef area, and most of them contain these deadly chemicals.


 The harm of sunscreen products to coral reefs has not been widely watched in the past. Marine biology expert Craig Downs said in a BBC inquiry that two UV filter chemicals, Oxybenzone and Cinnamate, are often found in sunscreens. (Octinoxate), which has a great impact on marine life. A study published in 2015 showed that benzophenone not only hindered the growth of new corals but also was experimentally tested and highly toxic to several different corals.

The Guardian also quoted the findings that benzophenone alters coral DNA and makes corals more susceptible to bleaching and becomes a deadly culprit. " Among the 10 chemicals that are banned, benzophenone is believed to be the most harmful." Craig Downs said. "It causes corals to whiten even at lower temperatures and reduces corals adaptability to climate change."


After the catastrophic events such as large-scale coral bleaching, the coral reefs will theoretically be restored to their original state within a few years, but in reality, most coral reefs are not so resilient. Craig Downs explains: "Because early childhood corals are more susceptible to chemical contamination, coral reefs are basically impossible to regenerate in the tourist areas we see."

In addition to being a coral toxin, scholars have expressed concern about these chemicals earlier, suggesting that it may penetrate human skin and cause hormones and cell deterioration. Based on benzophenone, which poses a threat to human health, the US Congress is currently studying legislation prohibiting the use of benzophenone.

In the past years, Palau has been active in protecting the environment. In 2015, the maritime part of the territory was almost classified as a protected area. Moreover, the government is very aware of the threat of climate change to coral reef islands. In 2016, becoming the second country to sign the Paris Agreement is proactive in curbing global warming.

Thousands of tourists come to watch coral reefs every year. The ban on the use of sunscreen products means that Palau is determined to eliminate any threats affecting the ecology of coral reefs even it means to drive away tourist.

Jörg Wiedenmann, a professor at the University of Southampton who specializes in coral ecosystems, agrees: "Preventing the potential threat of vulnerable corals from exposure to these sunscreen products is a sensible precaution." He reminded: "However, to protect coral reefs It is not possible to rely solely on the prohibition of sunscreen preservation. For seawater warming, over-capture and pollution problems need to be controlled to prevent the degraded coral reef ecosystem."

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