Scientists found that compound in your sunscreen may kill off corals just like rising sea temperatures do. According to the study, the compound is so toxic to the marine animals that you can pour a single drop in a body of water the mass of 6 Olympic-sized swimming pools and corals would still be affected.
Sunscreen reaches the water where corals live from tourists who snorkel over the reefs or waster water from coastal showers used by sunbathers. Oxybenzone in regular sunscreen inhibits the growth of corals and can trigger massive bleaching events in adult corals, researchers said.
Corals are currently threatened worldwide. In the Caribbean, for example, 80 percent of corals are now gone. And that happened in less than half of century. Lost reefs spell the doom of fish and animals that thrive on them, and are a disaster to local economies that heavily rely on tourists.
Usually, bleaching events in corals are tied to rising sea temperatures triggered by El Niño events. Bleached corals are corals under a lot of stress that expel the symbiotic algae that lives inside them. If they are allowed to recover they may get their color back. Yet, bleached corals often die, and chemicals in the sea may have something to do with it.
“Climate change plays a big role, but it does not explain totally what is happening,”
said the study’s lead authors.
Researchers believe that another major factor that may lead to the corals’ demise is pollution. But oxybenzone pollution is one the most insidious and lethal forms of pollution for corals. The compound is found in sunscreens, lip balms, sprays, dish soap, and hair styling items. It can also be found in pesticides and some makeup.
The team came up with the idea of studying oxybenzone’s impact on coral reefs after visiting the Caribbean. While they were lamenting over the poor condition of the corals in the region, a local suggested they should visit corals around 4 to 5 p.m. The man said that every day he saw an oily sheen on the surface of water close to the shoreline.
There they took coral samples and exposed them to the toxic compound in laboratory conditions.The team learned that the chemical was still toxic to the marine animals despite low concentrations. Additionally, it prevented coral larvae from developing and moving to other locations to build new coral colonies.
But the compound not only stunted growth, it also killed baby corals and damaged their DNA. Researchers also took water samples and found the largest concentrations of oxybenzone in areas crowded with tourists.
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