From: Natalia Lima, Care2, More from this Affiliate
Published June 10, 2016 07:01 AM

Is sunscreen bad for coral reefs?

You only use a little bit of sunscreen — a squeeze of the bottle or two or three sprays. Sure, it has some chemical ingredients, but it won’t kill anyone, right? Wrong. Sunscreen is actually one of the culprits of putting over 60 percent of the planet’s coral reefs in critical danger — and bringing a whole lot of other wildlife down with them.

About 80 percent of reefs in the Caribbean have been lost in the last 50 years, and while coral reefs only occupy one percent of the ocean’s floor, its loss wouldn’t just mean the demise of awe-inspiring nature. Nearly one million species of fish, invertebrates and algae are estimated to live in these “biodiversity hotspots” and they generate billions of dollars yearly to humans via the tourism industry. How can a little bit of sunscreen then be to blame for this much destruction?

Millions of little bits add up

While the quantity of sunscreen one person uses is fairly small, as millions of people visit beaches around the world, that amount adds up quickly. The U.S. National Park Service estimates that between 4,000 and 6,000 tons of sunscreen enter coral reef areas around the world each year.

While the tons of sunscreen in the ocean are still only equivalent to a drop of water in an Olympic swimming pool, reefs are sensitive living beings and it is still more than enough to harm them.

Bleaching is a death sentence

The beautiful colors that coral reefs are famous for are what actually keeps them alive. Corals are made up of tiny soft-bodied animals called polyps. Inside the polyps lives a form of algae that uses photosynthesis to feed the coral and keep it alive. The algae make the coral colorful and as generations of these polyps grow attached and close to one another, they create the antler shaped reefs on the floor of the ocean.

Oxybenzone, one of the UV blocking ingredients in sunscreen, makes the coral sick. When the coral is sick, it expels the algae living in it and without it, the coral loses its color and, very often, its life.

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, Care2.

Coral image credit: publiek domein via Wikimedia Commons

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