A tiny drop of sunscreen could prove fatal to coral according to new research revealed this week (October 20). Scientists found that UV-filtering chemical Oxybenzone — which is found in more than 3,000 brands worldwide — can kill coral.
The combined research by the University of Florida, Tel Aviv University and the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, looked at coral reefs in the US Virgin Islands and Hawaii. The study, published in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, found that an amount of sunscreen equivalent to a drop of water in six Olympic-sized swimming pools could damage coral.
Scientists believe that oxybenzone alters the coral’s DNA making it more susceptible to bleaching and that it creates changes in young coral that can be fatal.
It is estimated that between 6,000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion, large amounts of which contains oxybenzone, end up in coral reefs annually. The team found the highest concentrations of oxybenzone were found at popular dive and snorkelling sites. The study estimates that 10 per cent of reefs are at risk of high exposure due to their locations in popular tourism areas.
“The use of oxybenzone-containing products needs to be seriously deliberated in islands and areas where coral reef conservation is a critical issue,” said Craig Downs from Haereticus Environmental Laboratory. “We have lost at least 80 per cent of the coral reefs in the Caribbean. Any small effort to reduce oxybenzone pollution could mean that a coral reef survives a long, hot summer, or that a degraded area recovers.”
The decline of coral reefs is considered to be one of the biggest threats to the world’s oceans and scientists are coming up with a variety of methods to try and protect coral.