Palau becomes first country to ban sunscreen to save coral reefs

The Western Pacific nation of Palau has become the first country to ban many kinds of sunscreen, in a move to protect its coral reefs from chemicals that scientists say cause significant damage.

Under the ban, which will take effect in 2020, “reef-toxic” sunscreen — defined as containing one of 10 prohibited chemicals, a list that could grow later — can be confiscated from tourists when they enter the country, and retailers who sell it can be fined up to $1,000.

Damage to coral reefs worldwide from climate change has been widely reported, but scientists say there is growing evidence that chemicals from sunscreen, which washes off swimmers or enters the ocean through sewer systems, also causes grave harm.

Palau passed the ban into law last week. President Tommy Remengesau called it “especially timely,” saying that a major impetus was a 2017 report that found sunscreen products to be “widespread” in Jellyfish Lake, one of the country’s UNESCO World Heritage sites.

It has been estimated that 14,000 tonnes of sunscreen ends up in the world’s oceans each year.

Researchers found that even a low concentration of sunscreen in the water can hinder the development of young coral, said Dr. Selina Ward, a lecturer at the University of Queensland in Australia.

Studies have shown that chemicals in sunscreen can cause localized coral bleaching and can disrupt the reproduction of fish by interfering with their hormonal systems, Ms. Ward said.

A 2015 study found that oxybenzone in sunscreen stunts coral growth and is toxic for the algae that live within reefs.NY Times

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