Space & Innovation

Common Sunscreen Chemical Kills Coral

A compound commonly found in the 14,000 tons of sunscreen that enter reefs annually is detrimental to coral health, research shows. Continue reading →

A chemical commonly found in sunscreen is detrimental to coral health, a new report finds.

An international team of researchers linked oxybenzone, an organic compound used in more than 3,000 sunscreens, to "gross morphological deformities," DNA damage and endocrine disruption in already-vulnerable baby corals.

Oxybenzone can adversely impact coral health in concentrations as small as 62 parts per trillion - the equivalent of one drop of water in more than six Olympic-sized swimming pools.

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In Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands, however, oxybenzone has been measured in concentrations as high as 1.4 parts per million -- an unsurprising statistic considering that an estimated 14,000 tons of sunscreen enter coral reefs each year.

Around the world, at least 10 percent of reefs are at a high risk of exposure to oxybenzone, study authors estimate.

According to the National Park Service, no sunscreen products have been designed to be reef-friendly. However, products containing the naturally occurring minerals titanium oxide and zinc oxide have not been found to harm corals. Furthermore, the agency says that sunscreens designed for individuals with sensitive skin generally contain "gentler compounds" than regular formulas.

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"The use of oxybenzone-containing products needs to be seriously deliberated in islands and areas where coral reef conservation is a critical issue," said study lead author Craig Downs of Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in a press release.

"We have lost at least 80 percent of the coral reefs in the Caribbean. Any small effort to reduce oxybenzone pollution could mean that a coral reef survives a long, hot summer, or that a degraded area recovers."

Marine scientists from several institutions, including Tel Aviv University, the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Virginia, the National Aquarium, NOAA and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev contributed to the research, which is published in the October 20th issue of the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.

This post originally appeared on DSCOVRD.

The month of June honors both National Ocean Month and World Ocean Day (June 8). What better time, then, to check out photos of undersea life and be reminded that things "down there" are just as important as things up here on land. Here, a manatee goes about its day. The manatee, also known as a "seacow," is an air-breathing herbivore listed as a federally endangered species. Manatees are slow moving and can't swim quickly away from boats. This often results in collisions that can kill or injure them.

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Life's a beach. Mom and her baby elephant seal roll around in the sand in Ano Nuevo Island, Calif.

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A humpback whale breaches in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, off the coast of California.

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A blue rockfish fans for the camera in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, in California.

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A Southern sea otter, aka,

Enhydra lutris nereis

, wonders what all the fuss is about, at South Harbor, Moss Landing, Calif. The World Ocean Day Photo Contest entrant was Submitted by Dr. Steve Lonhart.

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A white-lobed sponge brightens up the scenery. It's one of several images of rarely seen deep-sea animals that were captured on camera in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary during a NOAA expedition. Researchers used a NOAA remotely operated vehicle in waters 328 to 656 feet deep off the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. The research was funded by NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program.

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This image brimming with colorful marine life is from the Pearl and Hermes Atoll. It's a huge oval coral reef within several internal reefs and is the second largest among the six atolls in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

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Having no backbone isn't always a bad thing! Just ask any octopus. These boneless invertebrates know how to squeeze into (and out of) many a tight spot. They have three hearts, nine brains and blue blood. (Two hearts send blood to the gills, while the third pumper sends it to the rest of the body.)

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Rapture Reef sits within the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument. The monument encompasses more than 140,000 square miles of ocean and coral reef habitat.

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A sea turtle swims off of the Hawaiian islands.

This seal is eager to wriggle its way back to freedom, as divers release it from fishing nets. Marine debris -- such as these nets -- makes a serious impact on its surroundings. From being an eyesore on a beach to injuring marine life or stopping a 400-ton vessel at sea, it causes problems that are difficult to ignore.

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Grey matter artwork? Nope! It's a sharknose goby (

Elacatinus evelynae

) propped up on brain coral in the U.S. Virgin Islands.