A pilot program designed to test the concept of “educate over legislate” to protect the Florida Keys’ coral reefs is being kicked off by a part-time Key Largo resident. Currently being beta tested by Paradise Island Snorkel Charters and Rainbow Reef Dive Center in Key Largo, the program, which promotes the use of safe sunscreen, has also been made available to water sports operators around the world at the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association’s national trade show.
“We watched the debate in Hawaii that did finally ban the two worst ingredients in sunscreen. Although we would love to see legislation pass with formal bans of oxybenzone, octinoxate and other harmful ingredients, we thought that Florida residents might respond well to an educational approach in the meantime,” says Autumn Blum, our CEO and formulator. Our products are the only mineral-based sunscreen and personal care products that have been tested for marine safety on fresh and saltwater fish, as well as vulnerable coral larva. This testing took place at at Eckerd College and at Mote Marine Tropical Research Station.
“Not only are political circumstances different here in Florida, but Hawaii didn’t include many of the ingredients that have been proven to harm coral reefs or other underwater ecosystems,” said Blum. Palau just took a major step, banning all ingredients shown by the prestigious Haereticus Environmental Laboratory to be toxic to our reefs. We believe the Florida Keys should do the same.
Working with local outdoor tour operators, Stream2Sea will provide boat-sized bottles of our mineral-based sunscreen at deeply discounted pricing so that the operators can provide it to their customers at no cost. If you think your boat would be the right fit for the program, check out our Safe Sunscreen Pledge and Safe Sunscreen Program details.
“Tour operators work closely with outdoor enthusiasts and have the opportunity to directly educate and positively influence their customer’s choices. They’re also the ones with the most to lose if ecosystems in the Florida Keys continue to decline,” Blum said.
While coral reefs are most impacted by rising ocean temperatures, ocean acidification and pollution, sunscreen and personal care ingredients have been shown to be a major contributor to reef decline, and is one we can easily eliminate with some education. Tests taken off Bahia Honda State Park in 2015 show 4,474 parts per trillion of oxybenzone – a commonly used sunscreen that is toxic to coral larva at levels as low as 62 parts per trillion. (To put that concentration in perspective, it’s about one drop in 6.5 Olympic swimming pools.)
According to Craig Downs, executive director of the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, a not-for-profit institute dedicated to protecting the world’s coral reefs, the most popular reefs are the ones in greatest danger. Chemicals in sunscreen are “bigger than climate change” in causing rapid coral reef damage, Downs says. “It’s a matter of concentration – the more popular the reef, the more sunscreen washes off.”
And since most sunscreen ingredients are not removed in a typical wastewater treatment plant or swimming pool filtration system, people who never get near a coral reef may also be causing it damage.
Even before tests proved that oxybenzone was toxic to coral, scientists began questioning their safety in humans in the early 1990s. “They hadn’t even invented the phrase ‘endocrine disrupter’ but researchers were seeing it happen,” Downs said. “Personally, I wouldn’t let my children get into a public swimming pool where people are using sunscreens with oxybenzone.” The reasons to avoid oxybenzone are seemingly endless.
Blum, an avid Florida diver and award-winning cosmetic chemist, started Stream2Sea specifically to develop reef-friendly products. “Without help from the people who love our reefs, it’s only going to get worse,” she said. “Its difficult to individually make a difference in climate change, but we can easily change to personal care products that don’t harm our oceans.”
So, try our reef-friendly sunscreens, and be sure to educate yourself and others about safe sunscreen ingredients! Look for the outdoor tour operators participating in the our Safe Sunscreen program if you find yourself in Florida this year!
Take the next step and sign our Safe Sunscreen Pledge to solidify your commitment to forming habits that protect the earth, and to sharing what you learn with all your friends!