Sunscreen damages coral reefs
January 31, 2008
Sunscreen can damage reefs by worsening viral infections in symbiotic algae that provide corals with sustenance, reports Nature News.
Testing the impact of the presence of sunscreen on corals, researchers led by marine biologist Roberto Danovaro from the Polytechnic University of Marche in Ancona, Italy, showed that UV-blocking chemicals found in sunscreens (a cinnamate, a benzophenone and a camphor derivative) can rapidly cause coral bleaching. In the presence of these chemicals, Danovaro and colleagues found high levels of viral infections in the symbiotic algae that nourishes coral.
The research supports advice that snorkelers and divers avoid the use of suncreen around coral reefs, instead relying on clothing for sun protection.
Great Barrier Reef in Australia
The research is published in Environmental Health Perspectives.
Beyound risks from sunscreen, scientists are worried about the impact of climate change on coral reef ecosystems. Both increasingly levels of acidity, which reduce the ability of coral to generate their main structural material, and higher sea temperatures, which can cause “bleaching” or expulsion of the symbiotic algae that enable corals to feed, are cited as the primary risks to reefs in a world of higher atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.
Danovaro, R. et al. Environ. Health Perspect. doi:10.1289/ehp.10966 (2008).
Brown, S. Sunscreen wipes out corals Nature doi:10.1038/news.2008.537. 29 January 2008