Lonely Planet Writer

Hawaii is set to be the first US state to ban coral-harming sunscreens

By now, most people are aware of the ongoing threat to the world’s coral reefs. But what some may not know is that the sunscreen they use to protect their skin is also one of the things harming the fragile marine ecosystem.

Hanauma Bay is one of the most famous snorkeling bay in Hawaii. Image by ©Pung/Shutterstock

Hawaii has now passed a bill that will ban sunscreens that contain the chemicals that impact marine environments. It will go to the state’s Governor to be signed, and if that is done, the law will go into effect in 2021. The chemicals in question are oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are found in many of the most well-known sunscreen brands. The bill states that the chemicals “cause mortality in developing coral; increase coral bleaching that indicates extreme stress…and cause genetic damage to coral and other marine organisms.” The bill also states that the chemicals have been shown to negatively impact wildlife like fish, sea urchin, eels, Hawaiian monk seals and more. With the beaches one of the top attractions for locals and travellers, the environmental contamination of the chemicals is “constantly refreshed and renewed every day by swimmers and beachgoers,” according to the bill.

Green sea turtle swimming over coral reef underwater in Maui, Hawaii. Image by ©M Swiet Productions/Getty Images

However, that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your skin to protect the reefs. There are a number of brands that don’t include the two chemicals identified. Even though the ban has yet to begin, many travel companies are already hoping to convince travellers to make a switch to another sunscreen option. In April, Hawaiian Airlines partnered with the chemical-free sunscreen company Raw Elements USA. The airline offered free samples of the company’s Eco Formula sunscreen to guests on all flights from North America to Hawaii in April, with full-size bottles selling at a discounted in-flight price through June. The airline also began showing an education in-flight video, called Reefs at Risk, to teach travellers about the impact of sunscreen products on coral reefs.

The hotel group Aqua-Aston is also distributing eco-friendly sunscreen to guests around Hawaii, and installing sunscreen dispensers. The Waikiki Aquarium in Honolulu is also installing dispensers to help guests access eco-friendly sunscreen.