Sunday 12 July, 2020

Hawaii approves ban on sunscreens that harm coral

(Image: Hanauma Bay in Hawaii, famous for its wildlife-rich coral reef, in image courtesy of Prayitno via Flickr)

(Image: Hanauma Bay in Hawaii, famous for its wildlife-rich coral reef, in image courtesy of Prayitno via Flickr)

Many sunscreen makers could soon be forced to change their formulas or be banned from selling the lotions in the US state of Hawaii.

State lawmakers passed a measure this week that would ban the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate by 2021 in an effort to protect coral reefs.

Scientists have found the two substances can be toxic to coral, which are a vital part of the ocean ecosystem and a popular draw for tourists.

It would become the first state to enact a ban on the chemicals if Democratic Governor David Ige signs the bill; he has not indicated whether he will.

Similar legislation failed last year, after it pitted environmental scientists against businesses and trade groups that benefit from the $2bn market for sun-care products in the US.

This is "a first step to help our reef and protect it from deterioration," said Hawaii state senator Donna Mercado Kim, a Democrat who introduced the measure. Although other factors contribute to reef degradation, "hopefully, other jurisdictions will look at this legislation and follow suit".

"This is the first real chance that local reefs have to recover," said Craig Downs, a scientist whose 2015 peer-reviewed study found oxybenzone was a threat to coral reefs. "Lots of things kill coral reefs, but we know oxybenzone prevents them from coming back."

Opponents are sceptical of the science.

"What we're really concerned with is that there aren't very many independent studies out there that have gone for peer review," said Tina Yamaki, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii. The American Chemistry Council also opposed the bill, citing concerns over the dangers of sun exposure.

Craig Downs said many manufacturers already sell "reef-friendly" sunscreens, and companies can deplete current inventory ahead of the ban in 2021.

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