[Coral-List] More sunscreen

Peter Sale sale at uwindsor.ca
Fri Feb 8 17:39:20 UTC 2019

Hi all,
The topic of sunscreen seems to have got the list buzzing mildly.  I think in all such discussions, it could be helpful to keep clearly separate the political, the environmental, and the scientific aspects of the topic.  In the case of sunscreens, it seems (I have not read the literature on this) that there is growing evidence that some chemicals in sunscreen, notably oxybenzone, have demonstrated toxic effects on corals.  Much of the work is in lab studies, and its legitimate to review, and question the correctness of exptl designs, and conclusions drawn.  That's the science.

Does the available evidence suggest these chemicals are having a deleterious effect on coral communities near sites frequented by sunscreen-slathered humans?  That is the environmental aspect.  Reading posts on the list, I get the impression that the evidence is a bit weak, but there may be something there.  Precautionary principle says, getting people to stop using sunscreens including those chemicals would be a damned good idea.  But it is also legitimate to wonder whether this is really a major problem, or a relatively minor one - lots of room for differing opinions here, and I don't yet have one to share (because I have not looked at the data, only at posts).

Finally, there is the political aspect: are governments or agencies or NGOs making expansive statements suggesting that by taking action on sunscreens they are saving coral reefs?  I've seen plenty of this on the web and in the media, and it looks like lots of actors are joining in this act of over-promoting, which can come very close to greenwashing.  Such actors should be smacked down.  From what I've seen of his twitter feed, Terry Hughes is trying his best to call to task his own Australian government, whose members continue to make oversized statements about how they are caring for the GBR, while adamantly refusing to deal meaningfully with their country's GHG emissions.  Australia has the highest per capita emissions of any developed country (Canada has the third highest, and good old USA is #2), is doing its best to ramp up mining and export of coal, and its pols see no contradiction between doing this and sustaining the GBR.  Looks to me that Hawaii is using its action on sunscreen as a screen to hide behind while it does little re other impacts to its reefs (perhaps I'm wrong).  And much of the global media coverage of sunscreen policies suggests inflated environmental impacts by banning them.

Incidentally, coral-list has in the past buzzed about a couple of other issues which fall into this same science/environment/politics arena:  plastic pollution, and coral fragment outplanting as a way to restore reefs.  We will all be able to keep our blood pressure down if we discuss the science on such topics, separately from the evidence of environmental effects, separately from the politics which uses the science and the anticipated environmental effects.

Peter Sale
Univ Windsor

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