The National Park Service estimates that, each year, somewhere between 4,000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen enter coral reefs, thanks to people slathering up with sun protection before snorkeling. While that is good news for skin cancer prevention, it is bad news for reefs, as research shows that some of the most common sunscreen ingredients can lead to coral bleaching.
Now Hawaii is fighting back.
This week, the Aloha State became the first U.S. state to pass a bill banning the sale of sunscreen containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are believed to harm coral reefs. A 2015 study of coral reefs in Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Israel found that oxybenzone “leaches the coral of its nutrients and bleaches it white. It can also disrupt the development of fish and other wildlife.”
While sunblock manufacturers oppose the ban, the governor is expected to sign the bill into law. It will go into effect on January 1, 2021. Even without state action, though, many of Hawaii’s resorts and parks, including Hanauma Bay, which gets an estimated 2,600 sunscreen-slathered snorkelers a day, are urging visitors to use reef-safe sunscreen before jumping in.