Common Sunscreen Chemical Kills Coral
October 22, 2015
Discovery News — An international team of researchers including BGU’s Prof. Ariel Kushmaro has linked oxybenzone, an organic compound used in more than 3,000 sunscreens, to various detrimental effects in already-vulnerable baby corals.
“Toxicopathological effects of the UV filter, oxybenzone, on baby coral includes gross morphological deformities, DNA damage and, most alarmingly, endocrine disruption,” explains Prof. Kushmaro, head of the Environmental Biotechnology Lab in the Avram and Stella Goldstein-Goren Department of Biotechnology and Engineering.
“Endocrine disruption causes the coral to encase itself in its own skeleton leading to death,” adds Prof. Kushmaro.
At least 10 percent of reefs around the world are at high risk of exposure to oxybenzone, the 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.
“In Israel, there is widespread use of sunscreens utilizing chemicals from the benzophenone group,” says Prof. Kushmaro. “According to measurements not included in the study, similar concentrations of benzophenone have been found near the coral reefs in Eilat. Since it is likely that these chemicals are being washed off of swimmers’ bodies, it stands to reason that concentrations would be higher in swimming and snorkeling areas, such as the coral reef reserve in Eilat.”