Sunscreen Ban In Thailand To Protect Delicate Coral Reefs: But Is It Too Little, Too Late?

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Thailand has taken some measures to protect its coral reef from the damage done by chemicals found in sunscreens. But the sunscreen ban is a halfway measure and does not totally eliminate the threat posed by ingredients used it.

While sunscreen creams are touted for the protection they afford against the harmful rays of the sun. Thailand has imposed a total sunscreen ban at its marine national parks as the harm it has done to its coral reefs far outweighs the benefits of sunscreen.

The SFPs in sunscreen cream contain chemicals such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, 4-methyl benzylidene camphor, and zinc oxide; all considered harmful to marine organisms and coral reefs.

Thailand has a flourishing tourism industry and the volume of sunscreen cream and lotion used by tourists has the potential to destroy corals, obstruct their reproduction and cause coral reef bleaching, according to the wildlife department of Thailand.

The administration has imposed a ban of around $3,000 for breach of the law. But officials are still not clear as to how they plan to impose the law.

Sunscreen Ban Prevalent In Several Island Nations In The Pacific

Similar bans are in place in Palau in the Pacific Ocean and Hawaii. This is the latest measure taken by Thai authorities to protect its coral from the damage caused by tourism.

Corals in the famous Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh have been shut since 2018. The bay, made famous by the movie, The Beach starring Leonardo di Caprio and directed by Danny Bole, lost most of its corals due to damage sustained during the shooting, and a heavy influx of tourists in the following years.

While there are several chemicals present that can harm marine life forms, oxybenzone, present in sunscreens that protects our skin from damaging UV rays.

They harm corals by making corals more susceptible to bleaching, damaging the DNA of corals and disrupting, their reproductive system. It also causes growth anomalies and deformities and disrupts a coral’s hormonal processes for reproduction and growth.

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And the worst part of it is that all it takes for all of this to happen are very low doses of the chemical. A little as 62 parts per trillion (equal to a drop in 6.5 Olympic size swimming pools), is enough to cause terrible damage.

Sunscreen chemicals can enter the water directly from human bodies when they swim or wash off the sand from the contaminated beaches. The spray varieties are especially dangerous as a considerable amount of it goes directly into the sand, from where they wash into the oceans.

A study found that oxybenzone concentrations at greater at high tide in the oceans. Harmful chemicals present in sunscreen can also enter oceans from shower water, excreta, and urine.

Sunscreens Need To Be Safer

A sunscreen ban is necessary not just for its impact on corals, but potentially on all other marine organisms that live on a coral reef. They include fish, sea turtles, seagrass, and almost most marine mammals.

sunscreen ban

Only a total sunscreen ban can prevent permanent damage to the DNA of corals and prevent their recovery from sedimentation, climate change, and storms. The reefs go dead and are ultimately totally ruined.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has recommended a sunscreen ban of all forms except those which are mineral-based. It includes those made from zinc oxide, titanium dioxide that are without nanoparticles. These are the only two ingredients that have been considered effective and safe in sunscreens.

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Sunscreen bans are effective in the Virgin Islands, Bonaire, Aruba, Key West, Marshall Islands, and Palau, where a country-side ban is in place.

A few informed choices can make a difference to get over the sunscreen ban. A number of reef-safe sunscreens use minerals as their active ingredient. Avoiding aerosol-based sunscreen cuts down drastically on the wastage of sunscreen.

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