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Chemicals in Sunscreen Found Toxic to Coral Reefs

A new study has found a chemical commonly found in sunscreen to be toxic to coral reefs

Oxybenzone, a UV-filtering chemical compound found in more than 3,500 brands of sunscreen can have a fatal impact on young coral reefs, researchers found.

Studying reefs in Hawaii and the Caribbean, the international research team found that oxybenzone was extremely harmful to young coral. Areas particularly popular with tourist showed the highest concentrations of oxybenzone,

'The chemical not only kills the coral, it causes DNA damage in adults and deforms the DNA in coral in the larval stage, making it unlikely they can develop properly,' a news release reported. 

The research team observed damaging effects where the concentration of oxybenzone was as low as 62 parts per trillion, which is equivalent to a drop of water in six and a half Olympic-sized swimming pools. Reefs in Hawaii and the Caribbean showed levels 12 times higher than that.

Craig Downs of the non-profit scientific organisation Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Virginia and leader of the research group said the harmful effect of sunscreen might explain why young corals are rarely seen in these areas.

It is estimated that between 6,000 and 14,000 tonnes of sunscreen lotion end up in coral reef areas every year, a lot of which contains oxybenzone.

The contamination of coral reefs could be limited if beachgoers use 'reef-friendly' sunscreen  with titanium oxide or zinc oxide instead of oxybenzone. Here are a few examples

The findings were published in the 20 October edition of the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.




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