[Coral-List] effect of sunscreen on corals

Luiz Rocha lrocha at calacademy.org
Wed Feb 6 18:52:38 UTC 2019

Hi all, this is a very interesting discussion, and even though I am not a
coral biologist I will chip in as an outsider. First, I think the issue can
be broken down in two parts, the science and the politics. So here is what
I think about the science (capitalization for stress, not screaming):

Not trying to defend Terry here, but I completely agree with him that there
is insufficient evidence showing that these chemicals ACTUALLY harm corals
in the wild. And that is what he said in his article, nothing else. Never
at any point he said that we shouldn't STUDY other smaller threats like
sunscreen, so for those that said that he is only concerned about the
threat he is studying, that's simply not the case. None of the lab studies
I have seen did what should be done to actually determine this. Here is
what some of them did: 1) increase concentrations in a tank until coral
dies; 2) go to beaches with a lot of tourists ONE TIME and see if those
concentrations were there. Here is what they should have done: 1) measure
real concentrations on the reef 10-20cm away from the corals during low and
high tide over multiple days; 2) replicate those conditions in the lab to
see if the coral is harmed. So, without the second experiment I cannot say
that sunscreen ACTUALLY harms corals and also don't know if bans will have
any beneficial effect on them. Actually, Terry's arguments can be used for
a great grant proposal to study potential effects in the real world, and
that's very likely to be funded because this was not properly done yet.

Now for the politics:

This is what frustrates me the most and Steve has already alluded to it.
Every time a place bans sunscreen, the whole thing is portrayed by the
media as a giant victory for conservation and everyone feels good. This
gives a lot of people the sense that they HAVE SAVED the reef and nothing
else needs to be done. It also gives green points to politicians, who
invariably push dealing with bigger issues down the road. Hawaii is the
classic example. Overfishing in the main islands is a huge problem, I would
say a close second to climate change. Yet, the State doesn't even require a
fishing license, spearing with scuba is allowed, and there are very little
fisheries regulations (like bag and size limits). Now many Hawaiians feel
like they saved the reef by banning sunscreen, politicians got their green
points, yet, overfishing (and climate change) continue to grow in their

Anyhow, just my two cents.



*Luiz A. Rocha, PhD*
Associate Curator and Follett Chair of Ichthyology
California Academy of Sciences
p. 415.379.5370
f.  415.379.5731
LRocha at calacademy.org
Academic Website

55 Music Concourse Drive
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA 94118

Twitter <https://twitter.com/CoralReefFish> | Instagram

On Wed, Feb 6, 2019 at 8:48 AM Steve Mussman via Coral-List <
coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> wrote:

> Dear Doug & Mike,
> Thanks for bringing attention to this multifaceted issue!
> There sure has been a lot of attention brought on to the the plight of
> coral reefs as a result, but perhaps it needs to be fine-tuned. As Mike
> says, it would probably be best to simply avoid sunscreens containing
> oxybenzone. So what’s the rub? The problem as I see it is context. The way
> the issue has been portrayed in the media can give people the impression
> that eliminating harmful sunscreens will, in and of itself, bring health
> and vitality back to coral reefs. For example, the scuba diving industry
> has enthusiastically embraced the call for awareness of this issue taking
> pains to describe the harm that can be done. The word is getting out and
> the message is clearly noted, so what’s the problem? I think the scientific
> community would agree that it would be more helpful and constructive if the
> diving industry (as well as the community of nations and states) would
> apply at least an equal dose of enthusiasm to confronting the other, dare I
> say, more significant stressors on the block like climate change,
> over-fishing and land-based pollutants.
> Regards,
> Steve
> Sent from my iPad
> > On Feb 5, 2019, at 1:49 PM, Risk, Michael via Coral-List <
> coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> wrote:
> >
> > 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.
> >
> > Mike
> > ________________________________________
> > 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
> >
> >
> https://theconversation.com/theres-insufficient-evidence-your-sunscreen-harms-coral-reefs-109567
> >
> > Open-access.
> >
> > Cheers,  Doug
> >
> > --
> > Douglas Fenner
> > Ocean Associates, Inc. Contractor
> > NOAA Fisheries Service
> > Pacific Islands Regional Office
> > Honolulu
> > and:
> > Consultant
> > PO Box 7390
> > Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799  USA
> >
> > How to win public support for a global carbon tax
> >
> > https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00124-x
> >
> > Global warming will happen faster than we think.
> >
> > https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-07586-5
> >
> > Nations falling short of emissions cuts set by Paris climate pact,
> analysis
> > finds
> >
> >
> http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/11/nations-falling-short-emissions-cuts-set-paris-climate-pact-analysis-finds?utm_campaign=news_daily_2018-11-28&et_rid=17045989&et_cid=2515903
> > _______________________________________________
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