The Miami Herald reported yesterday that the Key West City Commission on Tuesday unanimously voted to ban the sale of sunscreens that contain two ingredients — oxybenzone and octinoxate — that a growing body of scientific evidence says harm coral reefs. While opponents to the ban claim that it will increase rates of skin cancer City Commissioner Jimmy Weekley responded by saying “They have alternatives to these two chemicals. This is to me something we need to do in this community to protect our economy. What if we don’t pass this and three to five years down the road we have no reef?” Key West is following the state of Hawaii who banned the use of oxybenzone and octinoxate last year.
This is important as new research suggests that Florida’s reefs are becoming more susceptible to disease and are already at risk. As Yale E360 explained, around the globe, coral disease outbreaks are becoming more frequent, severe, and widespread. Many factors are contributing to the problem, including pollution and nitrogen runoff from fertilizers and coastal sewer and septic systems. But scientists say a key culprit is steadily increasing ocean temperatures, which have risen at least 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century and could increase several more degrees by 2100. Scientists say that bleaching associated with warming ocean temperatures is making corals more susceptible to illness.
Why This Matters: Corals are some of the most magnificent ecosystems on our planet and human activity is putting them in serious danger. Not only are coral reefs the basis of the reef ecosystem (providing habitat and vital services for the animals that live there) but healthy reefs help protect the coast from storms and are also critical for Florida’s economy. Without coral reefs, the fishing industry would greatly suffer and the money that Florida makes from divers and snorkelers enjoying its waters would be lost. Switching to an alternative sunscreen is a seriously small ask by local governments to ensure that corals don’t have to endure yet another stressor.