It’s summer, it’s hot, and millions of Americans are headed to the beach to swim, surf, and cool off. Some are even lucky enough to head out of town to a tropical paradise complete with palm trees, coconuts, and an underwater world of magic.
But as you jump into frolick in the sea, it’s important to be aware of what you’re putting on your skin to protect you from the sizzling summer sun. You’d be surprised to learn that some of what prevents you from getting sunburned is also having a dramatic impact on ocean-based sea life, including the world’s coral reef ecosystems.
There’s a new movement afoot aimed at protecting coral reef environments through policy development, personal action, and social networking. Will you take the #ReefFriendly pledge?
THE WORLD OF REEFS
As we’ve all heard, our oceans are in a state of crisis. Warming sea temperatures, ocean acidification, plastic pollution, overfishing, and a host of other activities are threatening the global marine environment on which we depend.
Coral reefs are a critical part of this environment. These living ecosystems are some of the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on Earth, supporting more species per unit area than any other marine environment, including about 4,000 species of fish, 800 species of hard corals and hundreds of other species.
Coral reefs buffer adjacent shorelines from wave action and prevent erosion, property damage and loss of life. Reefs protect highly productive wetlands along the coast, as well as ports and harbors and the economies they support.
Speaking of economies, healthy reefs contribute to local economies through tourism, including diving tours, fishing trips, hotel stays, restaurant dining, and other activities based near reef systems. These provide millions of jobs and contribute billions of dollars to economies all over the world.
All in all, coral reefs are essential to ocean health and provide economic benefits to communities and terrestrial ecosystems. Unfortunately, coral reefs around the globe are not faring well.
OXYBENZONE AND THE DECLINE OF CORAL
Possibly the greatest example of recent coral reef die-offs is The Great Barrier Reef on the north-east coast of Australia. It contains the world’s largest collection of coral reefs, with 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish, and 4,000 types of mollusc. A study published in March 2017 in the journal Nature estimated that a third of the coral died along the entire Great Barrier Reef between March and November 2016. This UNESCO Heritage Site, despite its splendor and majesty, is not immune to the pressures that are mounting among the world’s oceans. Some have said that this trend among reefs is ‘the new normal.’
Warmer water temperatures are known to have direct negative impact on coral reefs, but so are a number of other anthropogenic-based activities and by-products. Among them are pesticides and chemicals, including the chemicals found in everyday skin care products.
Oxybenzone is a particularly nasty chemical commonly found as an active (and deadly) ingredient in many well known brands. It’s a chemical blocker that interferes with UV’s ability to damage skin. Unfortunately, it does more than protect your skin. Oxybenzone harms fragile coral reefs by interfering with their DNA, making them unable to reproduce. It causes deformities on coral, makes them susceptible to coral bleaching, and is a contributor to the great ocean-wide decline in coral populations.
While Oxybenzone and a host of other chemicals found in sunscreen are not the only culprits behind coral die-offs, they play a significant role.
The good news is, there IS a better way!
TAKE THE #REEFFRIENDLY PLEDGE!
A number of companies and brands are making a commitment to protect our ocean from plastics, chemicals, and other nasty pollutants by developing products and business approaches that enhance rather than destroy our natural resources.
Our friends at All Good are one such company who are spearheading a campaign, starting in Hawaii, to encourage the use of #ReefFriendly sunscreens and skin care products. As one of only a handful of skin care companies committed to the health of coral reefs, they’ve established the following key #ReefFriendly criteria and are looking for your support.
- Say No to Chemical Sunscreens & the ‘Awful Eight’ – Most chemical sunscreens have one or more of the following active ingredients that are toxic to our coral reefs and marine ecosystems. Even some sunscreens that claim to be ‘coral reef safe’ contain one or more of the following ‘awful eight!’ These are:
- PABA (aminobenzoic acid)
- Say No to Toxic Preservatives and Additives
- Microbeads (plastic)
- Say Yes to Zinc Oxide – Non-Nano zinc oxide offers the most effective UVA/UVB broad spectrum sun protection in the world. They key word is NON-Nano. Nano sized particles of zinc or titanium dioxide are microscopic and can be consumed or absorbed by marine life and disruptive to reef growth processes. Remember to just say ‘Non!’ when looking at Zinc-based sunscreens.
- Say Yes to 3rd Party Testing – As you are aware, loose regulations allow many companies to claim their products as ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly,’ but those claims tend to fall apart under testing. If they claim green, ask them to show verification by a 3rd party laboratory.
All Good and a host of partners including pro athletes and artists like Chris Burkard and Kimmy Fasani, and organizations like Surfrider Hawaii (Oahu, Maui, Kona, Hilo, Kauai Chapters) & 1% for the Planet are supporting All Good’s #ReefFriendly pledge campaign. This pledge is a simple action with important impacts as participants are asked to share their pledge with their social networks, support policy efforts to encourage the use of #ReefFriendly sunscreens, and make a personal commitment to use #ReefFriendly sunscreens whenever possible. While the campaign is focusing on coral-rich Hawaii at its onset, its impacts apply worldwide
Every pledge makes this movement stronger and is one more person taking action to protect coral reefs. If you agree, please take the pledge here! All pledgers will receive a free Coconut Sunstick (w/ the purchase of any product from All Good online) to help get your #ReefFriendly collection started.
Much Mahalo, and happy summer!
World Resources Institute: http://www.wri.org/publication/reefs-risk-revisited