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Key West Just Banned Some Sunscreens Believed to Harm Coral Reefs

Feb. 08, 2019
3 min read
Key West Just Banned Some Sunscreens Believed to Harm Coral Reefs
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The city of Key West — the farthermost island in the Florida Keys — just voted to ban sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, both of which are believed to harm coral reefs. It joins the state of Hawaii, which voted to ban such sunscreens last spring. In both destinations, the bans will come into effect on Jan. 1, 2021.

Though there is still debate about the exact effects these chemicals have on coral reefs, scientific studies suggest that oxybenzone and octinoxate cause coral bleaching and other damage to marine ecosystems and animals. The motion was supported by Key West's Mayor Teri Johnston and the nonprofit organization Reef Relief, which advocates for the protection and restoration of coral reefs.

The ban will affect popular sunscreen brands such as Neutrogena, Coppertone and La Roche-Posay. According to Reef Relief, 14,000 tons of sunscreen enter the world's reefs every year, crippling coral's natural defense against bleaching. The organization suggests avoiding sunscreens containing not just oxybenzone and octinoxate but also avobenzone, camphor derivates, cinnamates, clear or nano zinc, cyclopentasiloxane, cyclomethicone, methylisothiazolinone, octyl methoxycinnamate, parabens, plastic microbeads and sodium laurel sulfate.

Basically, when in doubt, choose natural or organic sunscreen.

"Our dive boats and charters have been educating our guests on alternative sunscreen products that are not detrimental to our coral reef and nearshore waters for years," Mayor Johnston told TPG. "Sunscreen products sold at any venue in Key West will be required to be oxybenzone and octinoxate free by January 2021 which gives them almost two years to adjust their inventory and educate their customers."

Mayor Johnston added that Key West has a number of enforcement agencies that will assist in enforcing the ban, but locals and visitors with a doctor's note will be exempt. First-time violators will get a written warning, with all future offenses punishable by civil citations. She hopes that intense public education will encourage people to choose ecologically friendly sunscreens by brands such as Badger Balm, Raw Elements, Stream2Sea, All Good, Surf Durt, Suntegrity Skinscare and Godess Garden Organics, which are recommended by Reef Relief.

"We welcome all guests who understand that we are an environmentally-sensitive island and who respect our desire to protect our island for generations to come," Mayor Johnston said.

In addition to Key West and Hawaii, the Pacific island nation of Palau has also introduced legislation that could ban "reef-toxic" products by 2020.