Why Use Reef Friendly Sunscreen when Visiting Roatan?

Why Use Reef Friendly Sunscreen When Visiting Roatan

For several decades we’ve been inundated with messages about the dangers of UV rays originating from the sun.  We’ve been told to protect ourselves from those rays by using sunscreens, polarized sunglasses, and UV resistant clothing.  And although we’ve been told we should use sunscreen every day regardless of the season, it’s only recently become apparent that many of those sunscreens can be incredibly damaging to the environment, and more specifically, our coral reef systems.  Keep reading below to find out some of the reasons why you should use reef friendly sunscreen when visiting Roatan.

How Sunscreen Can Be Harmful

It’s been found that certain chemicals found in many types of sunscreen, including oxybenzone and octinoxate, may be responsible for interrupting the reproduction and growth processes of coral.  It apparently induces deformities in young corals, prevents proper development, hinders reproduction and ultimately leads to the bleaching of the reefs.  And it seems that it doesn’t take a lot of these chemicals to cause problems.  According to an article in the Guardian, a single drop of oxybenzone in a body of water as large as 6.5 Olympic sized swimming pools is enough to cause harm to coral.

It was originally thought that the bleaching of the coral reefs was caused by the phenomenon of climate change.   However, studies of small bays in the Caribbean show that those who host very few tourists have much healthier coral reefs than other nearby bays with plenty of visitors.  Climate change may play a role, but chemical levels are also taking their toll.

Funnily enough, these studies have caused some sunscreen manufacturers to begin lobbying politicians with the argument that coral reef bleaching is caused by climate change alone.  They say it has little or nothing to do with what types of sunscreen people are wearing while they go swimming.  Governments such as those in Hawaii and marine preserve owners in places such as Mexico don’t necessarily agree and have created rules against using marine life harming sunscreens.

Many scientists agree that sunscreen isn’t the only cause of coral reef degradation, but attribute it to several factors that include climate change, microplastics, sewage, agricultural runoff, coastal development and more.  It appears that all these factors, combined with sunscreen, have a cumulative effect which puts more pressure on the reef systems than ever before.

It’s been found sunscreens can have an effect on coral reefs even if you don’t go in the ocean.  Once you end up showering, the chemicals go down the drain and eventually end up in the there anyway.  It’s also been found that aerosol sunscreens are even worse offenders than lotions because much of the product ends up in the air, on the sand and eventually in the ocean as well.

So what’s a concerned beachgoer, swimmer or snorkeler supposed to do?  Obviously, you can’t spend hours on the beach or floating around the water completely unprotected from the sun – especially if you have fair skin.  For those who are staying on land, one choice is to forego the sunscreen and simply cover up.  Sit beneath an umbrella, wear a hat and long sleeve shirt.  Limit your time in the sun – especially between the hours of 10am and 3pm.

Of course, avoiding the sun completely, especially in a sunny location like Roatan, is a pretty tall order.  If you do choose to use sunscreen, be wary of labels that claim to be “reef-safe” or “ocean-friendly” as the terms aren’t regulated and are about as meaningful as “natural” or “calorie reduced” when it comes to food labeling.

Choosing Reef Friendly Sunscreen

Look for products that do not contain oxybenzone or octinoxate.  Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are good substitutes, but they won’t rub into your skin like most sunscreens.  But you’ll sometimes notice white smudges on beach goer’s noses and cheeks, which are becoming just as fashionable as black smudges under the eyes of football and baseball players.

The great news is that there are some businesses making great eco and reef friendly products on Roatan like sunscreen. The most famous is Aegis All Natural, which can be purchased at Roatan Divers, our on-site dive shop right here at Blue Bahia. To find other locally made items and souvenirs, make sure to pop into our gift shop.


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