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Visitors to the beach are normally careful to put on sunscreen. But soon beachgoers in Hawaii will not be able to use some popular brands—the state is banning sunscreen that contains certain ingredients, chemicals that may be destroying coral reefs.

Beginning in 2021, Hawaii is set to impose the ban on sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. These chemicals may cause bleaching of coral that can lead to the coral dying. Suncreens with household names like Coppertone and Banana Boat use these two ingredients. 

The bill, passed by Hawaiian lawmakers in May and signed by Gov. David Ige in July, states that oxybenzone and octinoxate “have significant harmful impacts on Hawaii’s marine environment and residing ecosystems, including coral reefs that protect Hawaii’s shoreline.”

A 2017 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that over half of the Big Island’s coral was bleached, and reefs around Oahu and Maui also showed substantial bleaching.

Chemicals are just one reason that bleaching in coral occurs. Another reason is over fishing and global warming which has increased ocean temperatures. The warmer waters and chemicals have a negative effect on the relationship coral has with an important type of algae. The coral and algae (zooxanthellae) have a symbiotic relationship—the algae grows and lives on the coral and provides it with nutrients. When the algae’s metabolism speeds up, it becomes toxic to the coral. The coral will shed the algae—thus bleaching as the algae is what gives coral its color as well as a food source.

The sunscreen ban will have some exceptions.

People who have a doctor’s prescription will still be able to use sunscreen with the banned ingredients. Others can use reef safe suncreens that contain minerals like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

July 2018