October 22, 2015

Sunscreen linked to coral reef destruction

Coral reefs cannot seem to catch a break this year. Between a particularly strong El Niñoocean acidification and increasing ocean temperatures, links between overfishing and reef collapses, and the declaration of a massive coral bleaching event expected to affect 95 percent of U.S. coral reefs by the end of the year, the current state of the global environment has been particularly detrimental to coral reefs.
And now, research has shown that a chemical found in almost every chemical-based sunscreen used in the United States is linked to coral destruction.
The study, published Tuesday in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, was led by Craig Downs from the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Virginia. He told Reuters that the research was conducted in order to help explain why baby corals have not been developing in many established reefs.
Researchers conducted the study in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Hawaii — areas that attract large amounts of tourists each year to swim in reef areas. They found that the chemical oxybenzone affects coral in three different ways: it alters its DNA, makes coral susceptible to potentially fatal bleaching, and acts as an endocrine disruptor, which causes baby coral to encase itself in its own skeleton and leads to its death.
To make things worse, it does not take a large amount of this chemical to upset coral. According to the research, concentrations of oxybenzone as low as 62 parts per trillion — equivalent to a drop of water in six and a half Olympic-sized swimming pools — are deemed harmful.
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