Reef Safe

A few years ago there was a lot of talk about sunscreens that protect corals. “reef safe”. In fact, some places like Hawaii require the use of reef safe protectors by law. That triggered hundreds of questions like What’s the truth about reef damage? or, Do sunscreens really affect coral life?These issues will always be a controversy. But something if I can tell you. What are the ingredients that are considered harmful, and which are actually corals?

Although it may not seem like it, coral is an animal. They are translucent, soft and live attached to a rock. On which they begin to divide and clone themselves. Each coral unit is known as a polyp. And when a set of polyps is created it is called a colony. Polyps build a calcium carbonate structure that surrounds them and allows them to communicate with each other and function as a unit. Growing for thousands and thousands of years.

The color that distinguishes them is not due to polyps or calcium carbonate, but rather to algae called zooxanthellae that are housed inside. They form a symbiosis and mutually benefit. The algae provide the coral with 95% of the products of its photosynthesis. To make this possible, corals are usually found in shallow areas where they have good access to sunlight. Corals give algae their habitat. In addition to other nutrients.

They are fundamental to the oceanic ecosystem. Despite building no more than 1% of its surface, they are home to almost 25% of the inhabitants of the sea. They also control the waves on the coasts, among other benefits. If coral life disappears, it means chaos in the marine ecosystem. What affects the life of this little animal are high water temperatures (global warming), excess UV radiation, darkness, overfishing of protective species for corals, pollution, disposal of waste into the water, and mechanical aggressions.


Now, speaking of sunscreens. There are two types: physical and chemical.

  • Physicists are minerals like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. And they are naturally present in the environment.

  • Chemicals are synthetic filters that can have an environmental impact. These can be found in formulas like Oxybenzone, Avobenzone, Octocrylene, Homosalate, Octinoxate, among others.

Since 2013, there have been multiple studies that identify some chemical sunscreens as harmful to coral health. However, the results have been mixed. While some refer to the concentration in the water of chemical filters as damage to coral reefs, others show that the concentrations must be more than 1,000 times higher than those actually found in the oceans.

Which really means that yes, chemical sunscreens are indeed harmful. And even if they consider that a much greater amount is needed than what already exists, do not doubt that in a couple of years we will be able to achieve it. What will you do about it?


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