[Coral-List] Harmful effects of suntan lotion on coral reefs?

Todd Barber reefball at reefball.com
Thu Mar 4 15:33:03 EST 2010

>From practical experience, I can tell you that oil free suntan lotions
do not appear to harm corals.  Several years ago, we traced back the
death of some coral fragments that were being propagated and held for
periods of up to a few hours in plastic coolers to volunteers using
suntan oils that coated the surface of the water and inhibited oxygen
transfer into the constrained water causing stagnation and coral

Switching to oil free suntan lotions for all members of our Coral
Teams that handle corals (especially in tank settings) solved the

Applying this to the ocean setting, the only practical issue of harm
to corals that I could hypothesize is that during warm ocean
temperature days, in areas with limited circulation and low wind,
concentrations of tourists (like when cruise ships unload a mass of
snorkels on a small protected bay) might give rise to lower oxygen
concentrations in the water that might stress some coral.  (As any oil
that blocks surface to air exchange can do).

This is perhaps just another example that as scientists, we need to be
clear about our messages, because when it gets translated to
"practical" applications the message is often distorted (often with
only good intentions).  I find these distortions are often magnified
when language and educational barriers  such as may be the case in
Mexico (research papers don't always translate very well!).


Todd R Barber
Chairman, Reef Ball Foundation
3305 Edwards Court
Greenville, NC 27858
252-353-9094 (Direct)
941-720-7549 (Cell & Goggle Voice)
toddbarber Skype

www,reefball.org (Reef Ball Foundation)
www.artificialreefs.com (Designed Artificial Reefs)
www.reefbeach.com (Reefs for Beach Erosion)
www.eternalreefs.com (Memorial Reefs)
www.reefball.com (Reef Ball Foundation)

On Mon, Mar 1, 2010 at 11:00 AM, Hector Reyes <hreyes at uabcs.mx> wrote:
> dear coral listers, is this true? the so called damage to corals by suntan
> lotions has no real foundation? It would be really interesting that a
> "coral legend" has been the cause why Mexican marine parks force people to
> avoid application of any solar protection (sometimes by law; the rule is
> actually in some management plans), and that way probably are affecting
> their health by UV skin damage...
> Hector Reyes
> UABCS, La Paz
>> Catherine,
>> There was one paper that was published in April 2008 that misrepresented
>> the subject title by implying it related to impacts in the field.  I
>> believe this is the one that stirred some debate at the time and other
>> unfounded implications of actual impact of sunscreens on corals.  I
>> posted a comment to the list in May.  The paper is by Danovaro et al. in
>> Elemental Health Perspectives.  This work exposed corals to sunscreen
>> inside 2 l plastic bags, a far cry from what would happen in open water...
>> The paper's conclusions directly implied in situ impacts by saying "up
>> to 10% of the world reefs is (sic) potentially threatened by sunscreen
>> induced coral bleaching." and "Actions are therefore needed to stimulate
>> the research and utilization of UV filters that do not threaten the
>> survival."  As mentioned previously; at best, "potential" can be
>> claimed, but nothing more without some evidence of actual impacts in
>> open water.  If there is any new research that obtained measured
>> signatures of sunscreen in open water next to a coral with snorkelers
>> overhead, that would be remarkable.
>> Greg Boland
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
>> [mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Catherine
>> Head
>> Sent: Monday, March 01, 2010 5:59 AM
>> To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
>> Subject: [Coral-List] Harmful effects of suntan lotion on coral reefs?
>> Dear all,
>> I'm looking for information and any evidence of the harmful effects of
>> suntan lotion on corals.
>> If you know of any papers or research on this topic I'd very much
>> appreciate it if you could please let me know (email:
>> catherine.head at zsl.org).
>> Many thanks for your attention,
>> Catherine
>> The Zoological Society of London is incorporated by Royal Charter
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> --
> Héctor Reyes Bonilla
> Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur
> Departamento de Biología Marina
> Apartado postal 19-B, CP 23080. La Paz, B.C.S.
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