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Reef Safe Sunscreen – Why it Matters

When we think of a coral reef, we think of magnificent colours, beautiful, vibrant fish darting amongst tall coral and fascinating sea life. We think of sharks, turtles, manta rays and dolphins. We conjure up the image of the perfect golden beaches and goofy-looking snorkel sets, swimsuits and the smell of sunscreen as we lather up for the day. Unfortunately, in a lot of places, this is no longer a reality.

Now? Coral is bleached and crumbling, desolate, because marine life has died off or moved on to find the parts of the reef that are actually habitable. All over the world, chemical runoff from humans is killing coral reefs.

According to the National Ocean Service, one of the biggest culprits is the sunscreen we use before swimming. Chemical sunscreens, which use active ingredients such as Oxybenzone and Octinoxate leech chemicals from our skin, into the water, which bleaches and kills coral. Some of the more harmful effects are also on marine life’s ability to reproduce. Fish, mussels and dolphins have all been shown to have their reproduction negatively impacted by the chemicals in our sunscreen.

An infographic from the National Ocean Service shows the chemicals to look out for.

Of course, this isn’t saying to ditch your SPF altogether. Just to switch out harmful chemical sunscreen for something just as effective against UV rays, but gentle on the environment. Physical or mineral sunscreens, typically with the active ingredient Zinc Oxide, are best. Watch out for sunscreens that mix chemical ingredients with zinc oxide however, as they have been shown to degrade when exposed to sunlight and become ineffective, as well as still containing the chemicals that harm reefs.

Luckily, many reef-snorkeling destinations are clued in to the damage chemical sunscreens are causing, and have outright banned them. This includes Hawaii, parts of Florida, the Virgin Islands, Palau and parts of Mexico. We hope that Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef will soon follow suit, for the sake of this World Heritage Listed reef.

So remember, check the ingredients list on the bottle before lathering up, and search for all-natural sunscreens like zinc oxide. Your body, and the oceans of the world, will thank you.

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