Dive Deeper Blog

Keeping It Real: Product Testing On Fish and Coral

February 23, 2019

Stream2Sea offers the only product line that has been tested and proven safe for freshwater fish, saltwater fish, C. elegans and coral larvae.  Part of our business model is total transparency with our followers. In that light, we felt it was important to share more about the extremely tough decisions we had to make about product testing on live species when we initially formulated our product line. 

We’ve discovered the hard way that just because a product is safe for people, doesn’t always mean it’s safe in an aquatic ecosystem. During our initial formulations in 2015, the only way to determine if our products were harmful to fish and other aquatic life was to test them on fish and coral larvae.  If there was a real alternative, as opposed to just using ingredients we thought were safe, we would’ve used it. If our products were not tested, they could have (and would have) been harmful to marine life. We wanted to ensure that would never happen.

Most cosmetic formulators never read material safety data sheets – and most of the safety data sheets don’t include aquatic safety anyway.  From the beginning, I knew that in order to be completely certain that our products would be safe for marine life, and the future of our reefs, we would have to test them. It doesn’t mean I have to like it.


When “Good Enough” Isn’t Enough

Our first shampoos (which I formulated to EcoCert® standards using what the industry considers very safe ingredients) failed the first aquatic toxicity trials, which killed a tank of Zebrafish and flathead minnows. This was a huge wake-up call for me. Even though the product I formulated was apparently good and safe by REAL natural standards — it certainly was not safe for marine life. This wake-up call made it very clear that “good” wasn’t good enough.

After many changes and a second round of testing, I developed a formula that left every single fish alive and happily swimming (without any changes in feeding habits or behavior) in the foamy, shampoo-laced water. It was then that I felt more comfortable with testing our products because we were able to guarantee the safety of our reefs in the ocean.

We’ve given a lot of thought to this issue — my previous company was one of the early signers of the Leaping Bunny program against animal testing — yet there I was testing on fish and coral. This was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make, and yes, I actually cried when we killed the first tank of minnows.  I didn’t cry because the formula that I spent hundreds of hours working on failed — I cried because I killed fish.


Why Live Testing Matters

Skincare products are a very real threat to the delicate ecosystems within our planet’s waters–and we need to develop products with as much certainty as possible, so they absolutely will not hurt the creatures and ecosystems they come into contact with.

We stand behind our formulas when we say that they are ecoconscious, reef-safe, coral-safe, lake-safe, and stream-safe. We know this because we’ve done the hard testing and we can say that our products will not harm marine life. We are very passionate about this point.

We are adamantly against animal testing where there are in vitro alternatives.  At this time, however, there are no cellular cultures or models to replicate aquatic toxicity testing  We applied the best practices and methods we could to reduce the number of fish used in testing.


We realize that testing on fish and coral may turn some people away from our products. We completely understand and respect that position — there is nothing you can say that we haven’t said ourselves.

If there were proven alternative testing methods that didn’t include live fish or coral, we would be using those instead. But our reefs that get up to 14,000 metric tons of sunscreen annually can’t wait for that sort of testing to be developed.  We are doing what we can, now, to help lessen our impact in the long run.

To be clear, we are not continuously testing.  We have not tested in a long time. Once we determine it is safe, there is no need to test an ingredient again.  Mike Malterre, the Vice President, likes to say “an average seafood restaurant throws away more leftover fish each night than we have ever tested on.”

I am very proud that we offer the only product line that has been tested and proven safe for freshwater fish, saltwater fish, C. elegans and coral larvae.  Even though I wish there was a way to prove safety without harming fish, there isn’t yet, and we learned that just because an ingredient is safe for us does not mean that it is safe for our aquatic friends. If we hadn’t tested our products, I would have put formulas on the market with natural, clean ingredients that would have harmed our waters. Many other brands out there are doing just that by slapping a ‘reef safe’ logo on their package without any real data to back up the claim.  After taking every viable precaution, Stream2Sea products will be true to our claims – even if it means we will take some heat for doing so. 

As a vegetarian and an appreciator of all living creatures – I won’t kill an ant – I can say that this didn’t sit well with me at all when I first learned of it. 

This testing is done for the sake of preserving aquatic species and unfortunately, at this time, are no other testing models that will accurately provide this information. As learned during testing, there are clean ingredients that we find in products that aren’t safe for other habitats and species.

How do we learn these things if we don’t test them? It is obvious through scientific findings that there are products/ingredients that do have a negative impact on marine life. There are little to no standards for body care/sunscreens that inhibit use of misleading marketing terms

I think that it’s better to know how to fix it then to bury our heads in the sand and continue to allow the destruction that impacts all species.


Manufacturing Partner

As a diver with over 20 years’ experience working in the field of marine conservation, I’ve seen the decline of our coral reefs and other aquatic ecosystems from multiple stressors. One of those stressors is the chemicals found in common sunscreens.


I use Stream2Sea products including their shampoo in my daily life and especially when diving. I trust their products because I know the science behind it; it is the only product I know that has been tested and found to be safe for not only corals but also fish.
I love knowing that what I’m putting on my body is safe for both me and the aquatic organisms I’ve worked to help protect throughout my career.
Samantha Whitcraft

Director, Conservation & Outreach, Sea of Change Foundation

All of us at Stream2Sea thank you for continuing on this journey with us to protect what we love.  We are growing at a tremendous rate because of the caring and educational support of people like you.  I have learned that we don’t have a typical customer base – we have a passionate group of advocates, and for that, I am truly grateful.  We appreciate your comments, concerns, and questions which will help to ensure that we share information that is important to you along the way.  Feel free to reach out anytime!

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