Summer is here once again, and it is the perfect opportunity to spend some time outside with family and friends. Many people are flocking to Florida beaches for the warm sunshine and salty sea air. This popular pastime allows individuals to become one with our natural world. What we don’t always realize, is that we must limit our impacts within these natural ecosystems to conserve them for future generations.
Research has shown that beach and sand dune habitats with high concentrations of human activity are being impacted by harmful chemicals found in sunscreen products. Scientists believe that this newfound form of pollution comes from people swimming directly in the ocean, as well as through our water management systems. A study published in 2015 by the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology states that approximately 14,000 tons of sunscreen residue is spreading into our oceans and ending up in coral reef ecosystems every year. Of all the chemicals found in sunscreen products, the most destructive are oxybenzone and octinoxate. These chemicals harm corals by altering their DNA and making them more susceptible to bleaching. Bleaching occurs when coral “polyps” expel the algae that lives inside their tissues, causing the coral to turn white. This algae is what gives coral its color and provides it with energy to survive.
Fortunately, by simply adjusting our habits and being more mindful of the impacts we have on the world around us, we can remedy this situation. Consider wearing sun protective clothing instead of wearing sunscreen next time you are going outside. Another alternative is to purchase approved sunscreens that use safe ingredients such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.
For more information about the effects of sunscreen on coral reefs, visit the Ocean Conservancy. For more information about how to be mindful of your coral reef ecosystems, visit the National Park Service. Remember we are all stewards of our natural world and it is up to us to protect it.