Florida Legislature Overrules Key West Sunscreen Ban Put In Place To Protect Coral Reef

Photo: Orlando Weekly

Last year the City of Key West Florida voted to become the first city on the U.S. mainland to ban the use of toxic chemicals in sunscreen in order to protect the coral reefs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, a major tourism draw for the region, which locals work very hard to keep pristine. But the ban may never go into effect (unless Governor Ron DeSantis vetos the bill) because on Tuesday the state legislature passed legislation that prevents local governments from regulating any over-the-counter drugs or cosmetics including sunscreen.

Why This Matters:  This pre-emption argument is raging everywhere in increasingly divided governments.  As we reported yesterday on HFCs, Congress at the federal level wants to pre-empt states from passing tougher laws banning those chemicals. The same thing is playing out here on the state level, with the state government led by a Republican governor and legislature, pre-empting tougher regulations passed by a municipal government.  In this case, the Republicans argue that there is not sufficient evidence that sunscreen chemicals harm coral reefs, but there is substantial evidence that sunscreen protects people from getting skin cancer.  There is plenty of evidence that sunscreen damages coral reefs and it is also full of chemicals like octinoxate and oxybenzone that actually could be harmful to humans – the government is researching this now.  We will see if the Governor agrees with his legislature or takes the city’s side in favor of local control on a decision like this.  The Governor did not sign a bill before that would have pre-empted a plastic straw ban, so we will see what he does on this one.

Keeping the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Clean

The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation issued a report yesterday entitled “Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys” describing a successful initiative that engages dive professionals and recreational divers to remove marine debris from the reefs in order to protect wildlife, corals, and sponges; and engages the community in marine debris awareness and prevention through education and outreach. In its first year (July 2018 to July 2019) with funding support from the Sanctuary Foundation, local dive operators were able to complete 49 cleanup trips. Nearly 450 recreational divers and 158 professional divers spent 897 hours underwater removing 14,693 pounds of debris, 78 intact lost and damaged fishing and lobster traps, hundreds of pieces of trap debris, and 16,369 feet of line.  Dive operators reported results through the Project AWARE® Dive Against Debris® citizen science program.  Kris Sarri, president and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, said, “The Goal: Clean Seas initiative empowers local community members and businesses to become stewards of the sanctuary through direct action, and the data gleaned from these cleanup dives will help refine the focus on prevention in the future.”

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