Hawaii is prepared to ban certain sunscreen products from sale within its borders in the name of protecting coral reefs. But vacationers will still be able to protect themselves from skin cancer while snorkeling and romping in the waves – but may look a bit weird.
On Tuesday (May 1), the Hawaiian Legislature passed a bill banning sunscreen with the usual chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, effective January 1, 2021. The bill is now waiting for a signature from Governor David Ige.
The ban follows research suggesting that sunscreens that bead off tourists' skin can damage coral. But only chemical sunscreens are affected ̵
"Anything we can do could have a big impact, as corals get from all sides," says Nikki Traylor-Knowles, a biologist who studies coral at the University of Miami.  What is in a sunscreen?
Coral reefs around the world are faced with a whole load of threats. The most widespread is climate change, which warms and acidifies seawater and causes frequent coral bleaching. Corals live in symbiosis with algae, which guide photosynthesis of the safety of the coral's bone structure and provide coral food in return for protection. Bleaching occurs when corals are stressed and expel the algae. Corals can recover from bleaching, but recovery is less likely when the sea conditions are stressful or bleached year after year.
Pollution, including run-off and untreated sewage, can also damage reefs, according to National Ocean Operations. But in recent years, scientists have pointed to sunlit tourists as a hitherto unrecognized source of water pollution.
Two sunscreens, oxybenzone and octinoxate, have been shown to damage corals in various ways. According to a 2016 study in the Archives of Pollution and Toxicology, which was helped by John Fauth, a biologist at the University of Central Florida, oxybenzone damages coral DNA, causes coral bleaching, and even calls for free-floating coral larvae to excrete a hard skeleton prematurely, bury themselves. Bleaching could be the result of sunscreen compounds that promote viral infections in the coral, according to a 2008 study. The chemicals are also endocrine disruptors, Fauth said, thus damaging the ability of corals to reproduce.
It may be confusing that a few people could be creamed in sunscreen to affect the largest ocean in the world, or any ocean for that matter, but these compounds can affect the parts per trillion Fauth told Live Science.
Traylor-Knowles also said sunscreens could quickly concentrate in the sheltered bays and lagoons where people like to snorkel and swim.
"Other animals, like fish, can swim away from an area hit by a chemical, but corals can not do that," Traylor-Knowles told Live Science. "You just have to sit there and take it."
Hawaii's likely ban on chemicals is enormously encouraging, Fauth and Traylor-Knowles said. A few tourist areas in Mexico have issued similar bans, Fauth said, and Hawaii could be the spearhead for other island nations that are heavily dependent on tourism.
So, what is a sun-sensitive but coral-loving tourist to do? Cover and wear mineral sunscreen (but avoid mineral sunscreens that use a nanoform of minerals that could affect phytoplankton, the base of the ocean's food chain). Fauth and his colleagues said that when searching for sunscreen, they were careful not to contaminate the water while they were taking samples: they showered, washed all their equipment with harsh laboratory soap, and for a week avoided any personal care products, even deodorant. 19659002] "We looked at each other and said, 'This is going to be a mess at the end of the week,'" Fauth said.
But with the help of protective clothing, hats, swift guards and the skillful use of shadows, the researchers managed to avoid sunburn. Mineral sunscreens make sunscreen even easier and should be seen as a badge of honor, Fauth said.
"You have something that protects you," he said, "and that is not harmful to marine life."
Original article about Live Science.