Palau Becomes First Country to Ban Sunscreen to Save Coral Reefs

Alan L. Johnson

Palau just banned sunscreens that are known to kill coral reefs. In fact, all products that contain oxybenzone, octocrylene and parabens, which covers most major brands, will be prohibited in Palau by 2020. According to The Straits Times:

> The tiny Pacific island nation of Palau will ban "reef-toxic" sunscreens from 2020 in what it claims is a world-first initiative to stop chemical pollution killing its famed corals.

This comes as one of the greatest coral reef protectionists, Ruth Gates, has recently passed on. A move, no doubt, she would have admired and supported.

Palau is a little-known country situated in the pacific between Australia and Japan. It is known to have some of the best coral reef dive sites in the world.

According to the BBC and to Dr. Craig Downs an expert on the impacts of sunscreen on marine life:

> Oxybenzone is probably the baddest actor out of the 10 chemicals that have been banned. It causes corals to bleach at lower temperatures, and it reduces their resilience to climate change.

​In fact, according to Gizmodo:

> The world’s reefs are already facing threats from a number of sources, including warming waters, plastic pollution, and ocean acidification. Sunscreen is just adding another layer of trouble. In Palau, which has some of the most diverse coral populations in the world, the reefs have been suffering since at least the late 1990s when the islands suffered a massive bleaching event that killed a third of the corals there. Some areas saw coral mortality closer to 90 percent, according to a report by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme.

From 2020 on anyone importing or selling banned sunscreen from that date faces a $1,000 USD fine. Tourists who bring sunscreen into the country will have it confiscated at entry points.

According to Channel NewsAsia a spokesman for President Tommy Remengesau said there was scientific evidence that the chemicals found in most sunscreens are toxic to corals, even in minute doses, adding:

> On any given day that equates to gallons of sunscreen going into the ocean in Palau's famous dive spots and snorkelling places," he told AFP. We're just looking at what we can do to prevent pollution getting into the environment.

Famous dive sites have at least four boats or more an hour that travel out full of tourists. With this type of exposure, the concentration of chemicals could lead to a tipping point.

It is incredible to see Palau become the first country to ban sunscreens known to kill coral reefs. Just like Hawaii did recently to their credit as well. We are just beginning to understand how important coral reefs are and all of the species that need and occupy the reefs. What we do know is that they are the most diverse ecosystems in the world. Let's keep our oceans healthy, because healthy oceans mean a healthy world ecosystem.

Reality Changing Observations:

Q1. What can you do to help spread the word about how bad these types of chemicals can be for coral reefs?

Q2. Where would you find sunscreen that doesn't have these chemicals in it?

Q3. How could you help prevent the damage to our world's coral reefs?