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Choosing the Right Sunscreen

Every year, thousands of people abandon their dry habitats in search of a more refreshing marine landscape; thousands of dollars are spent on beach vacations, snorkeling adventures and ocean tours and thousands of gallons of sunscreen are spread lavishly on the shoulders of adults and children alike. While it is important to protect ourselves from the sun’s harmful rays, another factor when considering sun protection is the effect it may have on the very ecosystem we look forward to enjoying.

It is estimated that 5,000 tons of sunscreen is washed into the ocean every year and it has been proven that even a tiny bit of it can be detrimental to surrounding coral reefs and the ecosystems they support. The sunscreen activates dormant viruses found in algae that live on coral. The algae is responsible for protecting the coral and turning energy from the sun into chemical energy that ecosystem needs to survive. Without it, the coral turns white and dies.

To prevent this erosion, all the avid beachgoer, snorkeler or swimmer needs to do is make a responsible decision in the sunscreen aisle. Many companies have created reef friendly, biodegradable sunscreens that are completely harmless to marine life. Reef Safe is the most popular, as it is endorsed by the American Lifeguard Association and is used on many commercial ocean tours. Other brands include: Lavera, Aubrey Organics and Yaoh. When purchasing, look for product with mild ingredients and avoid chemical preservatives like parabens. Petroleum is non-biodegradable, so look for products with natural based oils like olive or sunflower.

Choosing the right sunscreen is a simple fix to a complicated problem. Increased awareness is all we need to ensure these vital resources and beautiful vacation destinations aren’t destroyed forever.

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