[Coral-List] effect of sunscreen on corals

Dennis Hubbard dennis.hubbard at oberlin.edu
Mon Feb 11 17:55:48 UTC 2019

Hi all:

I am not a biochemist, so I have little to offer relating to where
sunscreen sits in the pecking order.

I am sure that somewhere in the myriad emails on this subject, someone
listed either/both the ingredients (is it just oxybenzone and octinoxatee?)
we should look for when we purchase sunscreen plus a list of
"coral-friendly" products as we prepare for our next dive trip. For those
of us who missed it, what would be even better is a list of reef-friendly
products that we can look for while we argue over the relative importance
of sunscreens in the demise of coral reefs? A list of what products to buy
would be a lot easier than a list of ingredients to avoid as I'm scrambling
to pull together everything for my next trip. I'm certainly willing to use
them even if they turn out to be less harmful than some might suggest; at
this point anything is worth a try and this seems like a pretty cheap



On Mon, Feb 11, 2019 at 11:59 AM Risk, Michael via Coral-List <
coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> wrote:

> Hi Steve.
> I will try to help here, although I am now far removed from any levers of
> power (as if I was ever in a position of influence!). Let's see if this
> message gets past the digital demons...
> Your concern seems to be that scientists should do a better job setting
> the media straight. I wish it were that easy-and what would be "straight?"
> Right now, the work is new, and novel, and getting a lot of press. Next
> week, there will be another shiny object for the media to pursue, and the
> focus will shift. Yes, the media tend to popularise things, and provide
> (mostly) superficial coverage. We have no control over that, nor would we
> want any. By asking scientists to leap in here, you are asking a lot. And I
> think many of our colleagues would object.
> No one I know is saying sunscreen is a bigger threat than sewage,
> sediments, OA, blah blah. They ARE saying, "look, this is a new threat-we
> just found out about it, there's time to do something about it", an
> attitude with which it is hard to quarrel.
> Frankly, some of the pushback is very surprising. Some of it is just the
> usual disappointment with people mouthing off who have never read the
> papers, but some is determined. I suspect the fine hand of the chemical
> industry in some statements.
> To say "we need more research before we can act" is just fatuous
> time-wasting. No doubt those same people taking that tack will tell you,
> about THEIR favorite stress: "If we had only known earlier..." That these
> chemicals profoundly impact coral biology has been demonstrated. The areal
> extent of the influence is not yet clear, but for xxxx's sake (in deference
> to NOAA's no-profanity policy), the fix is simple. Buy different sunscreen.
> People like Terry say yes, but this may allow governments to ban
> sunscreens and claim victory. This is a curious attitude. The fix is dead
> easy, and would already have been implemented in many other jurisdictions
> were it not for the dogged resistance of the chemical industry. It is quite
> clear this is an additive stress, a new face of LBSP-BUT one we can fix.
> As I say, I find some of the pushback curious-and perhaps some of the
> motivation can be seen in Doug Fenner's posts. He worries about resources
> going into sunscreen research while there are "bigger problems." He feels
> it's a zero-sum game, with winners and losers. Maybe what's going on here
> is simple jealousy.
> This is something that should have been fixed by the coral reef biological
> community rising up with one voice and saying "Thank God we found out about
> this before it's too late. Now let's fix it and get back to work."
> Quelle surprise.
> This sort of organised response has always been beyond them. Phil Dustan's
> dead right.
> You ask "why did your colleague write that “(sunscreens) threaten the the
> capacity of local subsistence fishermen to access the abundance of food
> that healthy nearshore reefs once provided”. I have not the faintest idea
> what that means. It certainly seems improbable (were these fishers using
> sunscreen???) You will have to ask him.
> Mike
> ________________________________________
> From: Steve Mussman [sealab at earthlink.net]
> Sent: February 9, 2019 12:29 PM
> To: Risk, Michael
> Cc: coral list
> Subject: Re: [Coral-List] effect of sunscreen on corals
> Dear Mike,
> I still cannot buy into your argument.
> I don’t believe that anyone is saying that researchers are claiming that
> harmful ingredients in sunscreens are a “greater threat” to coral reefs
> than climate change (or over-fishing or land-based pollutants), but I can
> provide evidence that media spin can and does distort things to that end.
> When such misconceptions become pervasive, I would think that
> researchers/scientists have some responsibility to set the record straight
> lest they will appear to be complicit.
> Let me provide you with a specific example by way of an excerpt from an
> article that appeared in a diving periodical entitled “Sunscreens Linked to
> Coral Bleaching”.
> Let’s say you are layperson without vast knowledge of the issues at hand.
> What would you glean from the following passage regarding the relative
> significance of the various stressors involved in coral bleaching?
>  “Many factors threaten corals, including physical damage from anchoring,
> fishing with explosives, excess heating of the ocean's surface and
> pollution. Somewhat recently, a new emergency has been added to the list of
> the top-10 threats to coral reefs around the globe: sunscreens. Scientific
> investigations conducted at several reefs around the world — in the
> Caribbean, Fiji, the Red Sea and the Coral Triangle — indicate that the
> effects are almost immediate and generally lead to coral death within 48
> hours”.    (By the way, the above was written by a professor of marine
> biology and ecology).
>  If I am not well versed on the subject, this may well convince me that
> harmful sunscreens are on par with climate change and land-based
> pollutants. If I were a coral scientist or even just a concerned and
> educated environmentalist, I would demand clarification! Scientists can’t
> control all the media spin, but they can certainly take steps to correct
> any obvious misrepresentations of the facts at hand.
> As for hidden agendas, seems to me that almost everyone has their pet
> focus. Climate change, invasive species, restoration, plastic trash,
> African dust and overall water quality among them. So what’s the bottom
> line?  If we are ever going to have half a chance to save coral reefs in
> the Anthropocene we have to set egos aside, get over our narrow differences
> and set clear and unambiguous priorities. As least one of the goals of
> science is to communicate effectively with the broader society. As I see
> it, up until now,  the marine sciences as a discipline seems to be falling
> far short of that important and consequential objective.
> Regards,
> Steve
> P.S. If this isn’t about fish why did your colleague write that
> “(sunscreens) threaten the the capacity of local subsistence fishermen to
> access the abundance of food that healthy nearshore reefs once provided”?
>   I ask these questions respectfully and with great admiration for your
> work.
> Sent from my iPad
> > On Feb 9, 2019, at 8:46 AM, Mike Jankulak - NOAA Affiliate via
> Coral-List <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> wrote:
> >
> > Listers, this morning there was another blank post from Mike Risk, the
> > original of which I now forward to you in full, unedited. This one had
> > different headers from the others so I'd hoped the software would be
> kinder
> > to it, but it seems I hoped in vain. The very weird thing is that Mike's
> > first post on Tuesday came through without problem so whatever is
> > triggering this, it is intermittent.
> >
> > Enough from Mike J+, here now I bring you Mike R.
> >
> > ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> > From: "Risk, Michael" <riskmj at mcmaster.ca>
> > To: Douglas Fenner <douglasfennertassi at gmail.com>
> > Cc: coral list <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
> > Bcc:
> > Date: Sat, 9 Feb 2019 01:34:19 +0000
> > Subject: Re: [Coral-List] effect of sunscreen on corals
> > Doug:
> >
> > This whole thread has been full of straw men and hidden agendas. Allow me
> > to mow just a couple of the straws.
> >
> > Craig Downs did NOT say sunscreens were a greater threat to coral reefs
> > than climate change. The NYT reporter said that. (I asked Craig
> > specifically about that quote, because it was so obviously untrue.)
> >
> > None of us is responsible for what spin the media choose to put on our
> > research.
> >
> > I hope to heaven that managers don’t make policy from reading magazines.
> > (Wait…given the evidence, maybe they do.)
> >
> > HUGE strawman alert: No one, as far as I know, has claimed that banning
> > oxybenzone will save reefs. What some have suggested is: banning this
> stuff
> > is easy, so why not do it. The argument that focussing on oxybenzone will
> > divert attention from “more serious” problems is an exercise in “Look!
> > Squirrel"-ism. (I wish it to be noted that I was the first to coin this
> new
> > noun.)
> >
> > Then there are the usual meeching “objections”, like: "we need more
> > research." Lord love a duck. Find me ANY field where that could not be
> > said. These are comments generally made by people who (a) haven’t read
> the
> > research or (b) don’t like attention being diverted from their favourite
> > area.
> >
> > And finally: this isn’t about fish.
> >
> > Mike
> >
> > ps-to my few remaining friends out there, re those blank messages: no, I
> > wasn’t being censored by the -list. In fact, management tried their best,
> > but there were formatting errors beyond my ageing analog brain.
> >
> >
> > On Feb 8, 2019, at 1:56 PM, Douglas Fenner <douglasfennertassi at gmail.com
> >
> > wrote:
> >
> > Mike,
> >   It didn't take any digging to read that less than one-page piece on
> > Downs' website, it was featured on the home page.  The scientific article
> > is a bit different, 24 pages long.  The introduction does refer to many
> > studies on oxybenzone which found damaging effects at some concentration
> on
> > a wide variety of organisms,scary stuff, obviously real, some in
> temperate
> > waters, essentially none corals, and no effects on corals in the ocean
> > other than inside plastic bags (if I got that right).  The decisions
> about
> > management are made by government people who will be unlikely to wade
> > through the scientific paper.  The general public and perhaps managers
> will
> > be the main readers of the website.  I reread that web page and I see
> > nothing that indicates it is talking about local areas.  You have the
> > advantage of having read the scientific paper, which the public will not
> > have read, so you know he's talking about local effects, quite
> > appropriately.  It is surely just a inadvertent error to not have made
> > clear on that web page that he's talking about very small areas compared
> to
> > the world's coral reefs.  Sorry I hadn't caught that, but if he doesn't
> > want the general public or government people considering regulations or
> > rules to misinterpret it as I did and think he's talking about the whole
> > world's reefs, he might want to add that.  That has been my main point.
> > The web article, taken literally, says that the effect of sunscreens is
> > greater than bleaching, and for the general public I still think that
> will
> > mislead them, however unintentional it may be.  The web page does not
> refer
> > to the original scientific article, it refers to the New York Times
> > article.  So my concern is about the general public, government, and any
> > scientists who are not reading the toxicology literature, who could
> > misinterpret that web page.
> >     My views on whether sunscreens threaten the world's reefs or are
> > limited to small local areas are unchanged.  I think a lot of people have
> > jumped to the conclusion that they are a big threat to the world's reefs,
> > hence my comments on that.
> >     If there are hundreds of people working on the effects of sunscreens
> > on corals, they must have started working on it very recently, unless
> I've
> > missed a huge number of new papers.  I know of only 4 papers published on
> > the effects of oxybenzone on corals so far, the Downs article, one by
> > Danovero, and two by He.  Perhaps the hundreds of studies are mostly
> about
> > organisms other than corals.  I am not in contact with research in
> progress
> > on this topic, perhaps new papers will all replicate this finding.  Even
> if
> > a paper has not proved something to everyone's satisfaction, that doesn't
> > mean its conclusions are wrong, further work may confirm them.  But wait
> a
> > minute, if there are hundreds of people working on the effects of
> > sunscreens on corals, that takes some serious funding and involves a lot
> of
> > researchers.  Or is it hundreds of people working on the effects of
> > oxybenzone on all sorts of things but a much smaller number working on
> the
> > effects on corals?  The funding that has to be spent on hundreds of
> people
> > studying can't be spent on other things, the real, big threats to coral
> > reefs.  Same for the researcher time, effort and ingenuity.  All spent on
> > one of the most trivial threats to coral reefs instead of one of the more
> > important threats.  That is a zero-sum game for reef research, and if
> > hundreds of people are working on a trivial threat, that's an effort and
> > expense that could much better be spent on an important threat to coral
> > reefs.  That's the principle of triage, the high priority threats are the
> > ones you put your most effort into, unless you don't mind losing your
> > patient.
> >     I have always supported using the precautionary principle, which for
> > me comes up most often with fisheries.  I am safe in supporting it, no
> risk
> > anyone is going to implement it.  Nobody is going to use the
> precautionary
> > principle with reef fisheries, you'd have to shut down all the world's
> reef
> > fisheries.  Locally, there are reef fish stock assessments done quite a
> > while ago (led by Jerry Ault) that show clearly that several predatory
> reef
> > fish species in Florida are overfished.  Yet to my knowledge there has
> been
> > NO management efforts by the state or local government to restrict
> fishing
> > even enough to bring stocks up to maximum sustainable yield (MSY).  That
> is
> > a known local damaging effect on reef ecosystems which Key West, the
> state,
> > and other jurisdictions have not applied the precautionary principle to.
> > There may be others that Key West has not tackled, I certainly haven't
> > heard that they have a plan to bring their greenhouse gas emissions way
> > down.  Why not??  Because there would be huge public and corporate outcry
> > and likely they'd get booted out in the next election.  Classic case (as
> > with nearly everywhere else) of treating the scratch while letting the
> > patient die to a gun shot wound to the chest.  It is possible that any
> and
> > all fishing, which kills and removes reef fish, damages the reef
> > ecosystem.  Commonly, we focus on "overfishing" but in fact fishing that
> is
> > less than Maximum Sustainable Yield may also damage the reef ecosystem,
> > though presumably less so.  A myriad of other things humans do probably
> or
> > in some cases, clearly do, damage coral reef ecosystems, few of which are
> > regulated or banned under the "precautionary principle."  Walking on reef
> > flats to glean or even do research damages them.  Divers damage them,
> we've
> > all broken a coral from time to time.  Snorkelers do as well.  Small
> boats
> > do damage by anchoring or running aground.  There are a myriad of major
> > damages from people on land, sediment, nutrients, etc.  Then there is
> > releasing all those greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, cutting
> forests,
> > and on and on.  Sunscreens are low hanging fruit, easy to ban those with
> > particular chemicals in them as a precautionary approach.  Will it make
> > much difference and will we be as zealous tackling the things that really
> > threaten worldwide reefs?  (if not, it is not your fault, Mike, we all
> want
> > to reduce human impacts, but for most such things the opposition is
> > enormous.  Which is why we have been losing for so long.)  So in effect,
> > this ban on sunscreens is re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, a
> > feel-good exercise, in my opinion.
> >    I just realized that the precautionary principle can be in conflict
> > with triage.  The scratch on the hand might get infected, so take the
> > precautionary approach and treat it.  But if you do that, you may not
> treat
> > the gunshot wound to the chest at the same time (unless you have lots of
> > medical staff), and the patient will die very quickly.  Our problem is
> our
> > patient is dying and we are vastly underfunded and understaffed, so what
> > are we going to do, treat the scratch while the reef dies?
> >    Sorry, I tend to think banning oxybenzone is a feel-good exercise that
> > will not make a dent in saving world reefs.
> >     Cheers,  Doug
> >
> > On Tue, Feb 5, 2019 at 1:10 PM Risk, Michael <riskmj at mcmaster.ca> wrote:
> > Doug.
> >
> > You are correct, that post is far too long-especially as you could have
> > read the freakin paper in the length of time it took you to compose it. I
> > had expected better from you.
> >
> > You have dug into Downs' website and quote-mined from an article which
> was
> > clearly discussing local stresses. We scientists don't go by blog posts,
> we
> > go by the literature. To save you the trouble, here is a quote: "BP-3
> > contamination from beaches can travel over 0.6 km in distance from the
> > pollution source. The threat of BP-3 to corals and coral reefs from
> > swimmers and point and non-point sources of waste-water could thus be far
> > more extensive than just a few meters surrounding the swimming area."
> Sound
> > reasonable? And, if I can read that paper and understand it, so can you.
> >
> > This is a large field, with by now a voluminous literature. Those to
> whom I
> > have talked have always said, this is a local problem, one that may be
> > larger than we had thought-and it's easy to fix. What is wrong with
> that??
> > What is wrong with those who would challenge that?
> >
> > I am also disappointed that you managed to slide in the suggestion that
> > Craig's results were coloured by his finances. Doug, there are hundreds
> of
> > people working on this! If you are going to chuck around driveby's you
> will
> > be very busy. Yes, Craig supports his foundation on donations and
> > contracts. Please don't go after him for this.
> >
> > My original post has only been up for a few hours. Here is one off-line
> > response I have received, from a well-known reef scientist with 8,000
> > citations: "This article is really upsetting. Glad you responded. I'm a
> tad
> > shocked that Terry wrote this. Seems that ignoring 'precautionary
> > principles' is what often gets us in these messes in the first place and
> > then its too damn late."
> >
> > What's wrong with saying, we can fix this and move on?
> >
> > Mike
> >
> >
> > --
> > 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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> > Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
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Dennis Hubbard
Chair, Dept of Geology-Oberlin College Oberlin OH 44074
(440) 775-8346

* "When you get on the wrong train.... every stop is the wrong stop"*
 Benjamin Stein: "*Ludes, A Ballad of the Drug and the Dream*"

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