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Local study will help protect Maui reefs

By Staff | Jan 26, 2017

New research, including a report published last year in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, is bringing to light certain sunscreens’ damaging effects on coral reefs.

Conducted by a team of international scientists, “Toxicopathological Effects of the Sunscreen UV Filter, Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3), on Coral Planulae and Cultured Primary Cells and Its Environmental Contamination in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands” found that oxybenzone, carried into the ocean by bathers, damages coral and increases the rate of coral bleaching.

Our coral reefs are ecologically important, valued by the tourism industry and loved by generations of residents for fishing, surfing and many other reasons. We must protect our fragile reefs.

Fortunately, the Napili Bay and Beach Foundation plans to conduct a study on strategies to manage oxybenzone pollution.

The study will determine the effectiveness of a multi-pronged public relations campaign to promote alternatives to using sunscreens that contain oxybenzone.

It will encompass an environmental and demographic assessment pre- and post-campaign launch. Toxicity evaluations will be measured against two control sites where no campaign will occur.

State Rep. Angus McKelvey of Lahaina is pleased that the foundation is looking at ways to educate the public.

“I am especially happy that the Napili Bay Foundation has been selected to conduct this study. This shows that businesses, community groups and others share in the concern for our coral reefs,” said McKelvey. “Currently, no reliable data regarding oxybenzone-pollution management strategies exists. Thanks to the Napili Bay and Beach Foundation’s proactive efforts, this critical information will be available to make informed decisions about protecting not only Napili Bay’s coral reefs, but also elsewhere across the globe.

“As one who burns early and often, and is a skin cancer survivor, I know how important it is to protect yourself from the sun,” McKelvey added, “but there are many products that, along with sensible sun habits, can protect your skin and our reefs.”

What can you do? According to the U.S. National Park Service in Hawaii, use sunscreen made with titanium oxide or zinc oxide – which are reef-friendly – and wear clothing and hats to protect your skin from the sun.