Sunscreen does a good job of protecting our skin, but it may not be so good for marine life.
Research studies have found that chemicals found in some popular sunscreen products are harmful to ocean ecosystems. And now, after state lawmakers passed a bill Tuesday, Hawaii is set to become the first state in the US to ban the sale of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate.
The chemicals that help us by filtering UV rays are causing severe damage to Hawaii’s marine environment, according to a study by Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, a nonprofit scientific organization. They show up in coastal waters after beachgoers swim in the ocean and via discharges from wastewater treatment plants.
The study found that the chemicals seep into young coral and contribute to coral bleaching, which occurs when an increase in sea temperatures kills the algae that grows inside coral, turning reefs white and eliminating nutrients that sustain other marine life.
About 14,000 tons of sunscreen enter the world’s reefs every year, according to a 2015 paper published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.
Hawaii’s legislation prohibits the sale and distribution of any sunscreen that contains the two chemicals — oxybenzone and octinoxate — without a prescription from a licensed physician.
“Hawaii is the first state in the nation to pass a measure of this magnitude. The world was watching. We delivered. Preserve and protect our ocean environment!” said state Sen. Will Espero on Twitter after the bill passed in his chamber.
The bill now goes to the office of Hawaii Governor David Ige. If he signs it, the law would go into effect January 1, 2021.
In an effort to protect Hawaii’s reefs, Hawaiian Airlines last month began offering passengers free samples of natural sunscreens without those ingredients.
The airline is also encouraging its passengers to learn more about Hawaii by showing a 11-minute documentary on each flight about the environmental challenges affecting reefs.