As you stand at the waters edge ready to put your mask and snorkel on, do you stop to think about what you are bringing into the water on your skin? For those with a coral reef tank, washing and rinsing your hands thoroughly before touching your tank are a common practice. So why is it that most folks don’t think twice before they lather up and just jump into the ocean? The fact is that most people don’t mentally connect the two as being harmful and if they do, they figure the amount of goop they are wearing is insignificant compared to the huge volume of water they are entering. In the past, even if you had a concern about the suntan lotion you were wearing affecting the marine environment, there were not many options available that would protect you from the sun yet not hurt the marine environment.
Whether you are a snorkeler, a diver, or just someone who wants to limit the amount of chemicals they paste onto their skin before baking in the sun, you now have some alternatives when you go shopping for suntan lotion. There are now a handful of products from a few companies that are biodegradable so they will not harm coral reefs if you should enter the water. They also happen to contain natural ingredients so while you protect the environment , you can also avoid the billboard of ingredients that are usually contained in these products.
What is in Sun Screen that is bad for Corals?
Research now shows that certain chemicals that are in typical sunscreens activate viruses inside the zooxanthellae in corals tissue. These symbiotic algae cells are what produce most of the energy the corals need for life. When these viruses replicate, they kill off the algae. Without the algae, the coral dies.
One can use the same rules that are hopefully used when choosing foods you eat. That is if you haven’t heard of the ingredients or cannot pronounce the oxy-ethyl-ase jibberish that you are reading, its probably not too good for you. Specifically, the compounds that are found in suntan lotions that are harmful to coral reefs are : paraben,cinnamate, benzophenone, and camphor.
Another problem with many sunscreens is the sheen that their oils will leave on the waters surface which can spread out hundreds of times further than the drop that may rub off your body. This personal oil slick reflects light and thus reduces the amount that passes down through the water to feed the photosynthesis the corals need to produce energy. Toss in a tourist boat full of slathered up northern tourists and you have yourself a slick that would rival a small oil tanker spill.
What is Reef Safe Sun Screen?
Simply put, reef safe sunscreen is sun screen that does not contain the above chemicals and or the oils which can block out sunlight over the reef. Thus far, all of the sunscreens that have been deemed reef safe are also bio degradable so in addition to not directly harming the reefs, they will break down quickly and not have any detrimental effects on the marine environment. Now as we’ve mentioned, these products not only help the reefs, but in general contain a much less complex ingredient list that at least on the surface seem a bit more friendly as something you would want to coat your body with from head to toe.
One of the handful of brands that we found on Amazon was Caribbean Solutions which seems to have a decent range of SPF options while also keeping the ingredient list as natural as possible. Bottom line this is an A+ for anyone who will be in the sun and who needs protection, even if you won’t be heading out to snorkel on a reef. If you are heading out to snorkel, dive or just enjoy the water, it should be a no braining to not only protect yourself from skin cancer, but also protect the fragile marine environment from the products you will have on your body.