A Florida city is set to become the first municipality in the Sunshine State to ban sunscreens that kill coral reefs.
Last week, the city commission of Key West voted unanimously to ban the sale of sunscreens which contain two chemical ingredients that researchers say are killing coral reefs. The chemicals, known as oxybenzone and octinoxate, cause disruptions in the coral’s normal behavioral patterns which lead to their eventual deaths.
While oxybenzone and octinoxate can both be used to protect human skin from the sun’s damaging UV rays, the chemicals have been linked by a growing body of scientific evidence that says they are harmful to coral DNA.
A 2016 study in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology looked at coral reefs around Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands and found that oxybenzone and octinoxate pose “a hazard to coral reef conservation and threatens the resiliency of coral reefs to climate change.’’
Even dermatologists have acknowledged the harmful effects of these chemicals. A 2017 study with the American Academy of Dermatology admitted that there is “emerging evidence that chemical sunscreen ingredients” could be harming coral reefs, although cautioned that further study is warranted.
Key West’s recently passed measure is not yet signed into law. A second vote is scheduled for February 5th in order to confirm the ban. In the meantime, an additional review will be performed by the city commission.
“This is to me something we need to do in this community to protect our economy. What if we don’t pass this and three to five years down the road we have no reef?” City Commissioner Jimmy Weekley told the Miami Herald.
Weekley acknowledged that coral reef decline has many causes, including rising ocean acidity and temperatures. “But this is one reason we can do something about. We can take a step to eliminate those chemicals going into our water.”
Dermatologists are concerned that a ban on these chemicals may lead to an increase in skin cancer rates, the most common form of cancer.