How Hawaii is protecting coral reefs

It may be hard to believe but it has been calculated that around 14,000 tonnes of sun cream is deposited into oceans annually. On Tuesday, Hawaii became the first American state to ban the use and sale of SPF creams containing ingredients deemed harmful to coral reefs.

The change follows a 2015 report published in the journal ‘Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology’. With tourism number increasing to over eight million tourists annually, Hawaii wanted to do its bit for our coral reefs.

The bill won’t become effective until 1st January 2021, giving companies time to alter their ingredients list and giving stores time to clear their shelves of the harmful products. There are two main chemicals that the bill focuses specifically on banning: oxybenzone and octinoxate, both of which have been proven to cause damage to coral reefs and other marine life. As specified in the bill, the chemicals have “been shown to degrade corals’ resiliency and ability to adjust to climate change factors and inhibit recruitment of new corals.” According to the BBC, these two chemicals are used in over 3,500 sun cream products.


You might be wondering what the big deal is, so let us explain. The banned chemicals contribute to the bleaching of coral reefs which are critical to sustaining ocean life, making a fortune for scuba diving equipment companies and tour companies annually. Plus, they keep fishermen in business and delicious fish on our plates. Coral reefs also act as natural barriers against storms, protecting beaches from eroding. Senator Gabbard told the Honolulu Star Advertiser newspaper: “This will make a huge difference in protecting our coral reefs, marine life, and human health.”


There are many sun creams that keep coral reefs safe, but in general it’s ones that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Hopefully by 2021 it will be easier to choose the safest products, but if you want to start making a difference to the world around us before then, check ingredients lists for oxybenzone and octinoxate and if you see either, or both, of those in the list, avoid the product and choose something else.

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