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Sunscreen and Its Effects on Our Oceans

Portia Nee

Wearing chemical sunscreen to the beach helps protect your skin; however, it has multiple negative effects on marine life. About 14,000 tons of sunscreen end up in the ocean each year.

What is chemical sunscreen?

Chemical sunscreen is a type of sunscreen that contains active ingredients and absorbs into your skin. Chemical sunscreen contains harmful products called oxybenzone (benzophenone-3) and octinoxate. Oxyobenzone does not break down when wastewater is getting treated to get rid of contaminants. These products can affect coral, shellfish, fish, and mammals.

Negative effects on coral:

Oxybenzone causes abnormalities in baby corals and planula, coral larva. It also damages the DNA which ultimately leads to corals improperly growing. The chemicals can also cause coral bleaching. Coral bleaching is where corals turn white and they are more susceptible to disease. This can lead to less feeding areas and homes for other organisms and cannot minimize wave impacts during storms.

There was a study done by scientists at Polytechnic University which determined the effects of sunscreen on zooxanthellae and coral. Zooxanthellae is a symbiotic algae which lives in coral and helps coral by providing nutrients and its color. However, when zooxanthellae die or leave the area, coral skeletons are exposed which lead to death and losing color. During this study, the scientists put multiple samples of coral in sea water with various amounts of sunscreen. They found that certain ingredients in the sunscreen caused infections in zooxanthellae. The zooxanthellae exploded which caused viruses to spread to other coral communities and caused infections. Within a few hours of these tests, there was coral bleaching.

Effects on other marine life:

Oxybenzone, a chemical in sunscreen, can have multiple impacts on other marine life. For example, Oxybenzone reduces the amount of sea urchins as it prevents embryonic development. . With less sea urchins, there would be less balance in the ecosystem as they balance the coral and algae. The sea urchins consume algae and create areas for corals to live in. Fish can form deformities such as a male fish gaining female fish qualities, while females can have less egg production and embryo hatchings. In mammals, dolphins can give oxybenzone to their offspring through milk. These harmful chemicals can cause a disruption in endocrines through the anti estrogenic and antiandrogenic qualities. Such negative impacts can lead to a decrease in shellfish, algae, and fish.

Other alternatives to chemical sunscreen:

There are many ways to protect your skin without harming the ocean life. Mineral sunscreen reflects UV rays and stays on the surface of the skin. Reef safe mineral sunscreens contain zinc oxide and titanium oxide. Certain protective clothing which block UVA and UVB rays are another alternative.

In conclusion, chemical sunscreen has many negative effects, switching to other alternatives of chemical sunscreen can lead to a healthier ocean.

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