[Coral-List] effect of sunscreen on corals

Risk, Michael riskmj at mcmaster.ca
Tue Feb 5 18:49:58 UTC 2019

Hi Doug.

I find this screed by Terry to be deeply disappointing. Not only is it scientifically misleading, it epitomizes an attitude all too common among reef biologists, namely: "the most important stress on coral reefs is the one on which I am personally working." This attitude prompted my by-now ancient paper, Paradise Lost-not only has little changed since then, it seems things are even worse. 

Now, to the science.

I urge you all to read one of the key papers, Downs et al 2016 Arch Env Contam Toxic 70: 265. It is simply not true that authors bathed their corals in unrealistically high concentrations of oxybenzone, nor is it true they lack real-world data. They report high concentrations of oxybenzone in VI waters, along with zero coral recruitment. This stuff is death to coral larvae, at unbelievably low concentrations.

We need here to beware of some sort of false dichotomy. No one is saying, forego sunscreens. American readers will be surprised (or not) to learn that Europe banned the use of the known carcinogen oxybenzone in sunscreens, but American companies were allowed to get away with it. The research mentioned above has come under heavy criticism from the chemical industry in the US, quelle surprise. The answer is quite simple: avoid sunscreens that contain oxybenzone.

Criticisms of the research seem based not so much on genuine scientific issues as some sort of zero-sum game attitude, that attention to sunscreen will detract from whatever flavour of the month turns your particular crank. This is a small thing we can all do for reefs whilst still working on the big things.

Full disclosure: Craig Downs is a friend of mine, and in my opinion a brilliant scientist.

From: Coral-List [coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] on behalf of Douglas Fenner via Coral-List [coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov]
Sent: February 5, 2019 1:18 AM
To: coral list
Subject: [Coral-List] effect of sunscreen on corals

There's insufficient evidence your sunscreen harms coral reefs.

By Terry Hughes



Cheers,  Doug

Douglas Fenner
Ocean Associates, Inc. Contractor
NOAA Fisheries Service
Pacific Islands Regional Office
PO Box 7390
Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799  USA

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