The sunscreen that kills coral reefs around the globe

Although sunscreen protects us from sunburn and reduces skin cancer risk, it is deadly to coral reefs all over the world according to an academic study in Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. Researchers from Israel and the US found that the common UV-filtering chemical oxybenzone is present in high levels in waters surrounding the coral reefs of Hawaii and the Caribbean. The co-author, Dr. Omri Brnstein of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Zoology said that oxybenzone (3,benzophenone-3), can be found in over 3 ,500 sunscreens products around the world. The chemical pollutes coral reefs through swimmers who use sunscreen, or from wastewater outfalls of municipal sewage systems and coastal septic system. Coral bleaching can be caused by high levels of oxybenzone. Image: Wikipedia. Oxybenzone can damage DNA Oxybenzone kills corals and causes DNA damage in adult corals. Corals in larva stages of marine invertebrates are also affected. This severely reduces their chances for developing correctly. A person who spends a day on the beach will typically use between 2 and 4 ounces of sunblock, depending on how often they apply it. This number can easily be multiplied by how many swimmers are in the ocean, indicating that there is a risk to the environment. The highest oxybenzone levels were observed in areas where eco-tourists are most concentrated. Associate Professor John Fauth (University of Central Florida Biology), a diver and enthusiast, stated that coral reefs provide both environmental and economic benefits. He said, “Coral Reefs are one of the most productive marine ecosystems in the world and they support recreational and commercial fisheries as well as tourism. Reefs also protect coasts from the effects of storm surge. Coral reefs are worth a lot worldwide. They are at risk.” Dr. Craig Downs was the Executive Director of Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, a non-profit scientific organisation. Dr. Downs, along with his colleagues, collected samples at Eilat (Israel), in the US Virgin Islands and Hawaii. They also dived into the ocean. They did not use personal hygiene products during their dives. There are more than three ,500 sunblock products that contain oxybenzone, also known as benzophenone-3. Dr. Downs said: “The use of oxybenzone-containing products needs to be seriously deliberated in islands and areas where coral reef conservation is a critical issue. At least 80% of coral reefs have been destroyed in the Caribbean. “A small amount of effort could help a coral reef to survive a hot, long summer or make it recover from its previous state. While everyone wants coral nurseries to restore reefs, this won’t happen if environmental factors continue to intensify or remain. The lab experiments exposed coral larvae and adult coral cells to higher levels of oxybenzone. The team discovered that oxybenzone causes coral larvae to become trapped within their own skeletons, which makes it difficult for them not only to float in currents but also prevents them from dispersing. Coral bleaching is also caused coral bleaching by oxybenzone. Coral bleaching is the leading cause of death worldwide. The corals that lose the algae they normally have inside, or expels it from them, bleach. The algae are a crucial source of nutrients. The increased oxybenzone levels caused DNA damage to coral larvae by Dr. Downs’s colleagues. Seven coral species were killed by oxybenzone levels similar to ocean samples. The US Endangered Species Act currently lists three coral species as endangered. According to the abstract in the journal, the researchers concluded that Oxybenzone is a threat to coral reef conservation and could threaten the resilience of coral reefs against climate change. Prof. Fauth advises divers to wear rashguards, scuba suits and avoid using hygienic products while diving. Even if we can do it for a week, it is possible to forego it for a few minutes to protect the reefs. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. 20 Oct 2015. DOI: 10.1007/s00244-015-0227-7. Video: Sunscreen and coral reef decline

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