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Friday, June 27, 2008

Block a burn bleach a reef?


Photo by: Bradley Cornelius Groot

The bleaching of the world’s coral reefs has been an increasingly concerning mystery in recent years. Healthy corals harbor a host of zooxanthelae, colorful algae that live symbiotically within the coral tissue providing energy to the coral. The coral in turn provides shelter, plenty of carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, nutrients, and protection. When the corals are “bleached” these necessary algae are expelled leaving only the shell of the coral, its white, bleached skeleton. Scientists for years have struggled trying to identify a cause for this. Climate change is still a major contender but National Geographic just came out with an article that suggests something else, sunscreen.

“Four commonly found sunscreen ingredients can awaken dormant viruses in the symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae that live inside reef-building coral species.

The chemicals cause the viruses to replicate until their algae hosts explode, spilling viruses into the surrounding seawater, where they can infect neighboring coral communities. “

Those four ingredients are as follows:

  1. Parabens
  2. Cinnamate
  3. Benzophenone
  4. “A camphor derivative” (likely methylbenzylidene camphor)

Photo by: Breno PeckParabens in particular are in all sorts of other products, even our food. If they are the culprits in this fiasco we have a lot more to worry about other than just sunscreens. With growing concern around them I suggest reading all of your product labels and seeking out companies that are paraben-free. Even some main stream companies are transitioning over to paraben-free now so it should be getting easier in the near future.

The study is not the end all be all, it is just a step in the direction of possibly understanding this phenomena. It isn’t that hard to find a sunscreen that is made with physical sunblock rather than chemical sunblocks. Look for titanium dioxide or zinc oxide on the ingredient list and avoid the ingredients listed above. If all else fails put on a long sleeved white shirt and a giant hat.. you may look silly but you won’t get burned and you just might make a difference.

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