Reef-friendly sunscreen dispensers launched at Kahalu‘u Beach Park
By Special to West Hawaii Today | Thursday, January 28, 2021, 12:05 a.m.
With Hawaii’s ban on the sale of sunscreens containing two chemicals harmful to coral reef ecosystems now in effect, a popular snorkeling spot on Hawaii Island is providing beachgoers with easy access to a sunscreen option that’s kinder to marine life — and possibly their own health.
The Kohala Center, in partnership with Raw Elements USA and Target, launched a public reef-friendly sunscreen dispenser program at Kahalu’u Beach Park on Saturday. The program launched following the taking effect of Hawaii’s statewide ban on the sale of sunscreens containing the active ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate.
The dispenser idea has even caught on in the state Legislature, with Sen. Stanley Chang sponsoring Senate Bill 20 and House Reps. Lisa Marten and Adrian Tam sponsoring House Bill 281, which would establish a pilot program to install sunscreen dispensers at four popular Hawaii beaches, providing reef-friendly sunscreen samples to visitors and education on the harmful effects of oxybenzone and octinoxate on marine ecosystems.
According to the center, research confirms that active ingredients found in many common sunscreens, such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, and octocrylene, are harmful to the health of coral reef ecosystems. These chemicals damage coral DNA and larvae, contribute to coral bleaching, and affect the health of algae, fish, shellfish, urchins, and marine mammals.
Moreover, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) research found that these chemicals, when used topically as directed, are absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream. Further research is needed to determine potential health effects and what levels of absorption are considered safe. To date, the FDA has designated only two sunscreen ingredients as “generally safe and effective”: mineral UV filters zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
“Recent science has shown that many of these other sunscreen ingredients can also be harmful to marine life, such as octocrylene, homosalate, and octisalate,” said Dr. Craig Downs, a toxicologist and executive director of Haereticus Environmental Laboratory. “These chemicals are similar to oxybenzone in their toxic action in that they can harm photosynthesis, they can potentially cause ‘birth defects’ in fish as well as humans, and are endocrine disruptors.”
Two touch-free stations at Kahlu‘u Bay safely dispense samples of Raw Elements’ Certified Natural Sunscreen, which has one active ingredient non-nano zinc oxide, a natural mineral.
A popular place for residents and visitors alike, Kahalu’u Bay’s vibrant coral reef ecosystem was being compromised by high volumes of beachgoers and some of the highest levels of oxybenzone measured anywhere in the world. In 2018, The Kohala Center launched a reef-friendly sun protection campaign through its on-site Kahalu’u Bay Education Center, offering sunscreen swaps, reef-friendly sunscreen samples, educational pamphlets and programs, and more. Water samples taken at the time revealed oxybenzone levels as high as 2,947 parts per billion: 262 times greater than EPA’s high-risk threshold. A year and a half later, oxybenzone levels in the bay had dropped between 93% and 100% across multiple test sites.
“What these results show is that community stewardship and education work,” said Cindi Punihaole, Kahalu’u Bay Education Center program director. “We have meaningful conversations with visitors every day to let them know about the damaging effects chemical sunscreens and physical contact with corals can have on our vulnerable reefs.”
A visitor to Kahalu’u Beach Park tries a sample of mineral-based sunscreen from a touch-free dispenser installed at the park.