|Did you know that every time you put on SUNSCREEN and go snorkeling, diving, or swimming, you are impacting coral reefs and juvenile fish?
The next time you head to the beach for a refreshing time in the water, remember to use sunscreen but be aware that although sunscreen helps to protect our skin from ultraviolet radiation, some formulations are far from helpful to the marine environment around you. Many brands contain chemicals that can seriously harm the very reefs that attract people for their beauty and their surf breaks. Sunscreen induced bleaching threatens coral reefs worldwide, and although the amount one person uses may seem insignificant, it all adds up. An estimated 4,000 to 6,000 metric tons of sunscreen washes off swimmers and into the sea annually according to the Environmental Health Perspective online journal.
Coral Bleaching happens when the symbiotic relationship between zooxanthellae algae and coral breaks down. Zooxanthellae algae live in coral polyps. The coral feeds off the byproduct of the photosynthesis process of the zooxanthellae. This is how corals get their bright coloring. The chemicals in sunscreen (paraben, cinnamate, benzolphenone, and camphor derivative) cause dormant viruses in the zooxanthellae to wake up and start replicating. As their numbers increase the polyp strains and eventually expels the zooxanthellae leaving it a whiter appearance.
Sunscreen is not the only thing that causes coral bleaching, but is one thing that as individuals we can control. Put sunscreen on at least 10 – 15 minutes before going into the water. Look for sunscreen that contains natural ingredients. Wear a swim shirt that blocks UV rays.
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