Key West Wants to Put the Cap on Sunscreens in Order to Save Coral Reefs

January 17, 2019, 12:20 AM UTC

The Key West City Commission voted 7-0 in favor of passing a ban on the sale of sunscreens that contain chemicals that harm coral reefs, according to the Miami Herald. The chemicals in question are oxybenzone and octinoxate, which scientists say destroy coral by absorbing its nutrients. When coral reefs are depleted, that triggers damage further down the marine ecosystem, harming everything from algae to creatures such as sea urchins.

In 2018, Hawaii became the first state to ban certain sunscreens due to the harmful effects of some chemicals on coral reefs and marine life. The ban in Hawaii will take effect beginning on Jan. 1, 2021. And in other coastal areas, it’s not all that uncommon to suggest that anyone going into the ocean skip certain sunscreens in favor of those with minerals such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which block ultraviolet rays. The Herald notes that Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection already advises divers to skip sunscreens with benzones.

There are sunscreens on the market that do not contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, and the Key West city commissioner noted that individuals could still get a prescription from a physician for a sunscreen that contains the chemicals in question. That isn’t to say that if you can’t find a suitable sunscreen, you should risk sun damage. However, there are plenty of other ways to stay healthy outdoors that don’t involve slathering on sunscreen, such as sitting in the shade of an umbrella or covering up with hats and lightweight clothing that have a high Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating.

Nearly 100 people packed the commission debate Tuesday night, including boat captains, dermatologists, and school children. One more vote is needed to make the proposed measure a law. The next vote is scheduled for Feb. 2.