Eckerd College helps local company make sunscreen safe for marine life
By Leigh Spann
Published: July 13, 2015, 10:58 am Updated: July 13, 2015, 7:22 pm
ST. PETERSBURG, FL (WFLA) — Slathering on sunscreen before hitting the beach or the water is part of life here in Tampa Bay. What we may not know is that certain ingredients in sunscreen have been proven highly toxic to corals and marine life.
According to NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, even at low concentrations benzophenone-2, or BP-2, can quickly kill juvenile corals. This chemical has been used for decades to help protect against damaging effects of UV light. Aside from going into the surf wearing sunscreen, other body products containing BP-2 wash into waterways through bathroom wastewater and can bleach coral or even kill it.
Hardee County’s newest natural product company, Stream 2 Sea, is hoping to change this. The company’s CEO, Autumn Blum, is an avid diver and hated watching the suds from shampoos and conditioners wash overboard after a dive. “The chemist in me knew what the ingredients were in all the products, and it was a little troubling,” said Blum.
She set out to make a line of natural body products that was good for the body and the environment. As she found out, ingredients that are safe and healthy for us can be detrimental to marine life. Her first natural shampoo product killed every fish in the trial tank. “I cried. It was awful,” said Blum.
As an Eckerd College Alumni, she reached out to professors at the college to start research that was more targeted than standard tests. The concept was so new, no guidelines existed for testing these types of products on marine ecosystems. Before testing could even begin, researchers had to determine just how much product to use.
“We didn’t want to just dump a bunch of shampoo into the tank, we wanted to be thoughtful about the concentration, said Denise Flaherty, Assistant Professor of Biology at Eckerd College. “We said, what if you were someone with long hair, and you used a lot of shampoo, and the fish decided to jump into the tub with you. That would be the maximum concentration,” she continued.
Once that concentration was determined, the professors and students wanted to know more than if the fish lived or died. Their research focused on the changing swimming and feeding habits of the fish. Their goal was to keep marine life free from any effect of the products.
Leif Flor, a senior at Eckerd College, was part of the research team that tracked the fish in tanks each day. Each product was tested on zebra fish and compared to a tank of zebra fish with no product. “You can notice from the competitor sunscreen that the fish really aren’t moving very rapidly. Whereas over here, normally, they’ve got that sort of darting behavior,” said Flor.
Another group of researchers tackled the coral testing. Members of this group wanted to see how products affected adult corals, but also took the extra step to test the effect on coral in its larval form. After all this testing, Blum thinks she has developed products with ingredients that are safe for marine life and ecosystem. “We found out which ones caused an inflammatory reaction, which ones didn’t and were able to reformulate the shampoo to those standards using those ingredients,” said Blum.
The Stream2Sea line of products will be hitting the store shelves in health food stores and outdoor retailers soon. The sunscreen will cost $16.95, and bottles of shampoo, conditioner and lotion will be $12.95.