Florida Keys Chapter

Reef Safe Sunscreen

Between 4-16 thousand TONS of sunscreen is washed off people in to coral reef waters every year.

As a part of our mission to protect our oceans, reefs, and beaches, we have been working hard in the Florida Keys to lessen the impact sunscreen has on our coral reefs. Sunscreens that are not environmentally friendly contain chemicals such as oxybenzone and oxytocinate which are harmful to the reefs and humans. These compounds can last several years and have been found in waters all over the world (even offshore Alaska) as well as bio-accumulated in humans and animals.

It’s time to take a stance and make the switch!

Safe Sunscreen Options: (Just to name a few)


How Does Sunscreen Impact Our Waters?

Many of the active ingredients in sunscreen such as oxybenzone and oxytocinate are damaging to corals and human health. Even at very low concentrations, these chemicals are harmful to corals as well as humans in several ways including:

  • Damaging the larval development of coral: Oxybenzone has been found to harm the larvae on a genetic level by deforming it and preventing the larvae to move around. Because the larva is unable to move, it cannot find a suitable place to settle and grow into a mature coral.
  • Preventing adult corals from producing gametes: The coral is unable to reproduce because the chemicals in sunscreen are preventing it from producing gametes. This is why it is thought that in areas across the world where sunscreen is heavily used the reefs have been found to be less reproductively viable.
  • The chemicals from sunscreen are absorbed into our bodies: When chemicals enter our bodies, they can affect us in numerous ways. Some ways the chemicals used in sunscreens are known to be endocrine disruptors. Because of this, they affect us is by mimicking estrogen and blocking testosterone along with causing a myriad of other problems.
Why are coral reefs important?

Coral reefs have numerous benefits for the environment and us. A few reasons we should work to protect our coral reefs are because:

  • Corals provide structures and habitats for over 25% of marine organisms at some point in their life and are crucial to these species existence.
  • The reef along the coast of the Florida Keys is known as a barrier reef. Barrier reefs protect our coastlines from storms by creating a barrier and lessening the impact to our shore. Our reef is the only barrier reef in the United States and is the third largest in the world!
  • Coral reefs do more for us than protect our coastal communities. They also help provide for communities by being a source for food and tourism that allow these towns to thrive.
What changes are being made?

In light of all of this, we recently have made huge strides! The City of Key West joined Hawaii and passed an ordinance that bans the sale of sunscreens containing these harmful chemicals. This is just one piece to the puzzle of coral decline. We still have more fronts to fight on, but with each removed stressor the corals have a better fighting chance.

What can I do to help?

The biggest thing you can do is make the switch and use safe sunscreen! Rays from the sun are harmful and we should protect ourselves from them, but we can do it in a way that is good for us and the environment. We recommend always checking the list of ingredients on products to ensure they do not contain chemicals such as oxybenzone and oxytocinate. Above is a list of sunscreens we trust to protect yourself and the coral reefs for your reference.