This Island Nation Is Banning Sunscreen to Save Its Coral Reefs
Following a decision from Hawaiian officials earlier this year to pass a first-of-its-kind law to ban the sale of certain over-the-counter sunscreens deemed harmful to coral reefs, the Pacific island nation of Palau, which leans heavily on the tourism and fishing industries to support its population of 21,000, will soon follow suit.
Palau's president, Tommy Remengesau Jr., has signed legislation that would put into place a similar law, banning all "reef-toxic" products by 2020, in the hopes of protecting the country's coral reefs. "Reef-toxic" sunscreens are defined in the law as a product containing "any one of 10 chemicals" and leaves open the possibility for more to be added to the list.
According to the AP, "Banned sunscreens will be confiscated from tourists who carry them into the country, and merchants selling the banned products will be fined up to $1,000."
Remengesau hopes the penalties will not only educate tourists, but also possibly scare a few away from island, which sits north of Indonesia and east of the Philippines, altogether. The AP reports that Remengesau's motivation for passing the new law "was a 2017 report which found that sunscreen products were widespread in Palau’s famed Jellyfish Lake, which was closed for more than a year due to declining jellyfish numbers before being recently reopened."
The president went on to say that research has shown that “plastic waste, chemical pollution, resource overconsumption, and climate change all continue to threaten the health of [Palau's] pristine paradise.”
Hawaii's Senate Bill 2571, which received almost unanimous support across the House and the Senate, prohibits the sale and distribution of sunblock containing chemicals found to be especially toxic — including oxybenzone and octinoxate — to marine ecology.
The AP reports that "Scientists have found that some chemicals in sunscreen can be toxic to coral reefs, which are a vital part of the ocean ecosystem as well as a popular draw for tourists," but that "some critics say there aren’t enough independent scientific studies on the issue while others worry that people will suffer from too much sun exposure if they stop using the products."
Travelers can find “reef-friendly” products on shelves already, but beware of companies such as Sunsafe and Solaricare, which are hawking sunscreen pills that say they can prevent sunburn but do not meet the FDA’s safety and effectiveness standards.