[Coral-List] Sunscreen & Coral

Steve Mussman sealab at earthlink.net
Fri Feb 22 14:48:02 UTC 2019

Dear Mike,  

I can’t speak to all the motives at play,  but considering the wide range of claims that have been made relating to the threats that oxybenzone sunscreens pose, isn't some level of scientific hesitancy called for?  I thought that was how science worked.  If the coral reef biological community is to endorse a ban, shouldn’t they first be confident that the related assertions have been thoroughly vetted and confirmed? In this sense, I’m just wondering if it is possible that some of the more far reaching contentions put forth are in fact working to harm the prospects for reaching a loud and clear consensus on this issue. 

You say that we should rejoice in the media coverage and I agree, but I would argue that researchers behind this effort have some level of responsibility to see that the information being disseminated is accurate and that the issue is being framed in the proper context. If I were a scientist who was involved, I would be alarmed if my work was somehow being misrepresented or distorted by media sources in any way. After all, this is science and I would think that its efficacy could only be damaged by any and all assertions that could be construed as overstatement or sensationalism.  

As for managers banning sunscreens and claiming victory, this is not exactly my concern. I just found it curious that some special interests were apparently finding the science behind a sunscreen ban to be more compelling than the breadth of science that has been published pointing to the significant threats to coral reefs brought about by other forms of pollution, over-fishing and climate change. Why are they so quick to accept these particular findings? Seems to me that the preponderance of science-based evidence would dictate a different approach.  

So, what should the “sunscreen savants” do? I would humbly suggest that they continue to publish their work and talk to the media, but also allow for the rigors of peer review while taking steps to assure that their findings are presented in an accurate way. While I agree that it would be great if for the first time ever we succeed in shutting off a coral stressor, it would be even better to do so with a level of transparency that would help set the stage for even more significant and meaningful actions that we can all agree are long overdue. 


Sent from my iPad  

On Feb 20, 2019, at 7:56 PM, Risk, Michael <riskmj at mcmaster.ca> wrote:  

Steve, thanks for your kind words, and-I agree, there seems to be a problem here.  

There are two interconnected issues here. No, three. First of all, to the eternal shame of the coral reef biological community, there has been general failure to recognise the threat oxybenzone sunscreens pose, and to advocate their ban. I do not see scientific hesitancy here, I see turf-guarding. There is no manger so large that a small dog won't claim all of it.  

Second, there is the gee-whizz aspect of the "new threat", which makes for great media coverage. The media are not the "enemy of the people", to quote one of your statesmen, but they enjoy bright shiny things. We should rejoice in this coverage, because for the first time ever-let me repeat this-for the first time ever, we have the ability to shut off a coral stressor. I don't see this as a huge problem. Many of us have been 5-minute media sensations...it passes.  

Third-and I guess this is the nub of your position-local managers may ban sunscreen and declare victory. There is no doubt they do this. Even after there was overwhelming proof of human impact on the reefs of the Florida keys, management kept blaming "global change." They were able to get away with this because reef biologists did not rise up with one voice and say NONSENSE. So I think you are right in fingering this problem, and wrong about the culprits.  

I mean, what are the sunscreen savants supposed to do? Not talk to the media? Not publish??  

The focus on larger threats, I feel, can only be maintained by scientists NOT involved with the sunscreen work agreeing that...I hate repeating myself...we should ban the *** things and move on.  


More information about the Coral-List mailing list