Research at Ben Gurion University of the Negev has led the South Pacific island nation of Palau to ban sunscreen that contains harmful chemicals, in order to save its coral reefs, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
"On any given day that equates to gallons of sunscreen going into the ocean in Palau's famous dive spots and snorkelling places", he told AFP. Marine biologists and environmentalists, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), say the banned substances can reduce the resiliency of ecosystems to climate change factors and, by themselves, prevent the recovery of degrading wildlife and habitats. Last week, President Tommy Remengesau Jr signed the legislation to ban "reef-toxic" sunscreen from 2020. Part of the impetus for this legislation was a report that the Coral Reef Research Foundation (CRRF) released past year, which found that harmful sunscreen chemicals were widespread in Palau's Jellyfish Lake, which is on Unesco's World Heritage List.
The law which takes effect in 2020, prohibits use of environmental pollutants that threaten juvenile stages of many wildlife species, including corals, fish, and microalgae. Sunscreen is defined as containing any one of 10 chemicals present in sun-protecting lotions, including oxybenzone. Tourists who bring such products into the country will have them confiscated.
Palau has always been a pioneer in marine protection, introducing the world's first shark sanctuary in 2009, in a move that has been widely imitated. "I think it's great, they're being proactive", he said. "The coral reefs around those beaches have died".
The law against "a coral poison-sunscreens" to 1.
"What we're saying is that where there are lots of tourists getting in the water, sunscreen pollution can have a detrimental effect on nearby coral reefs, as far as five kilometres (3.1 miles) away", he said. Meanwhile, manufacturers have started selling sunscreens that are "reef-friendly" and don't contain any banned ingredients.