[Coral-List] [EXTERNAL] Re: effect of sunscreen on corals

Steve Mussman sealab at earthlink.net
Fri Feb 8 19:18:02 UTC 2019

Hi all,

I would just like to clarify a point that is particularly frustrating to a non-scientist like myself as I try to navigate this issue. 

Terry Hughes nailed it for me and I think one comment he made is worth repeating. 
“So is there any harm in banning sunscreen use for visitors to reefs? Potentially, yes, if it's a smokescreen for governments appearing "to do something", while largely ignoring a long list of tougher issues that are more important”. 

I believe this holds true not only for governments, but for specific industries as well. 

Not long ago an article appeared in a popular scuba diving periodical under the heading
“Sunscreen Pollution” “A serious and increasingly clear threat to corals”. (I can provide a link, but I have no intention of broadly discrediting the source). The article went on to make a number of statements that I believe deserve scrutiny. 

Here are a few examples:
(Sunscreens) “threaten the capacity of local subsistence fishermen to access the abundance of food that healthy nearshore reefs once provided”.

“Not only does intense sunscreen pollution threaten the survival of these reefs, but it also can prevent the recovery and restoration of already degraded reefs”.

“Oxybenzone and many other common sunscreen ingredients are now known to damage corals, even in extremely low concentrations”.

The article went on to conclude that “as with many marine environmental issues, divers are uniquely positioned to both lead by example and benefit from healthier more vibrant reefs”.

This last statement I couldn’t agree with more, but for the fact that as this industry rails against sunscreens it remains virtually silent on the issue of climate change. I don’t know if this qualifies the appeal as a smokescreen, but I can’t help but wonder.


Sent from my iPad

> On Feb 8, 2019, at 3:26 AM, Jean Jaubert via Coral-List <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> wrote:
> Hi all,
> There is insufficient evidence that sunscreens harm corals.This fact seems obvious to me and I like Terry and Christine I think we need more studies on the effect of UV filters on reef organisms.
> Cheers,
> Jean
> -----
> Jean Jaubert
> Ph. D., D. Sc.
> Past Professor of Marine Biology
> University of Nice (France)
> Founder of the Monaco's coral Lab
> Centre Scientifique de Monaco
> Past Chief Scientist and Expedition Leader
> The Cousteau Society
> Past Director of the Monaco's Oceanographic Museum
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>> Date: Thu, 7 Feb 2019 08:40:16 +0100
>> To: "Bargar, Timothy" <tbargar at usgs.gov>
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>> Subject: Re: [Coral-List] [EXTERNAL] Re:  effect of sunscreen on corals
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>> Hi all,
>> I think that Terry's article just wanted to highlight the fact there are not enough studies on the effect of UV filters on reef organisms to know what are their actual effects. More importantly, future studies should aim at precisely measuring the concentrations of UV filters in the different compartments of the reef ecosystem (water, sediment, living tissue, etcŠ) because for now, we absolutly don't know what is the fate of the different compounds of a solar cream once they are released in the environment. In a recent paper, we showed that measured concentrations of organic UV filters are often significantly (and quickly) lower than nominal concentrations, due to the lipophilic nature of the compounds.Therefore it's difficult to know what you are testing if you don't follow these concentrations- some products have no effect just because they "disappear" from the seawater very quickly! But UV filters are certainly not the main threat on corals, unfortunately.
>> Christine
>> the paper is on open access in Coral Reefs: Fel, J. P., Lacherez, C., Bensetra, A., Mezzache, S., Béraud, E., Léonard, M., ... & Ferrier-Pagès, C. (2019). Photochemical response of the scleractinian coral Stylophora pistillata to some sunscreen ingredients. Coral Reefs, 38(1), 109-122.
>>> Le 6 févr. 2019 à 15:28, Bargar, Timothy via Coral-List <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> a écrit :
>>> Mike - I agree that I don't understand the basis for Professor Hughes'
>>> article.  Perhaps he is saying the bans on the use of some sunscreen
>>> chemicals is premature because of uncertainty about large scale effects?
>>> A number of articles have demonstrated that, given sufficient exposure,
>>> some active ingredients are harmful to aquatic organisms, not just corals.
>>> The key phrase is "sufficient exposure".  To quote Paracelsus, "sola dosis
>>> facit venenum", or, "the dose makes the poison".  In other words, at some
>>> point, the chemicals could result in a toxic response.  Many studies of the
>> > toxicity for sunscreen chemicals, not just the ones referenced by Professor
>>> Hughes, have exposed organisms to concentrations greater than what has been
>>> reported for marine surface waters.  But, some of the data in those
>>> studies, particularly in the articles by Craig Downs, show a response by
>>> coral at exposures close to some of the higher concentrations we found in
>>> the USVI.  In my humble opinion, this is not enough to suggest widespread
>>> risk, but it is sufficient to merit further investigation.
>>> On Tue, Feb 5, 2019 at 5:21 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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>>> --
>>> ***********************************************
>>> Tim Bargar, Ph.D.
>> > Research Ecotoxicologist
>>> The USGS Wetland and Aquatic Research Center
>>> 7920 NW 71st Street
>>> Gainesville, Florida 32653
>>> T - (352) 264-3520
>>> F - (352) 378-4956
>>> **********************************************
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