Palau, an archipelago found in the Pacific, will become the first country to ban the use of sunscreens that have been deemed harmful to coral reefs and ocean life.
The ban, which will come into force by 2020, has been signed into law by the Palau government. It targets “reef-toxic” sunscreens, which are those that contain one of 10 harmful chemicals, including oxybenzone. Other chemicals may be banned too at a later date.
If anyone is found importing or selling the banned sunscreen, they will be hit with a fine of $1,000. Tourists will also have any offending sunscreen taken from them if they accidentally try to bring it into the country.
The main issue stems around Palau’s dive sites, which can see four boats an hour taking tourists to see the reef. This can result in “gallons of sunscreen going into the ocean,” a spokesperson for President Tommy Remengesau told the AFP.
“We’re just looking at what we can do to prevent pollution getting into the environment,” they added.
The ban will come into effect on January 1, 2020. It is not the first to be announced – Hawaii did so in May this year – but as their ban will not start until 2021, Palau will be the first nation to try to get rid of these harmful sunscreens.
The ban is expected to impact most major brands, with other chemicals targeted including octocrylene and parabens. The Associated Press noted that some manufacturers were already starting to sell “reef friendly” sunscreen.
“Oxybenxzone is probably the baddest actor out of the 10 chemicals that have been banned,” said Dr Craig Downs, an expert on the impacts of sunscreens on marine life, told BBC News.
“It causes corals to bleach at lower temperatures, and it reduces their resilience to climate change.”
Palau, found north of Indonesia, is home to just 21,000 people but has a booming tourism and fishing industry. They are keen to avoid the fate of other countries, which have had to close beaches and other tourist destinations due to tourism.
While sunscreen is a danger to coral reefs, research suggests climate change is far and away a bigger problem. Every little helps, of course, but recent coral bleaching events – and efforts to allay them – have highlighted the problems the world’s oceans face.
Recently countries have been moving to eliminate single-use plastics in an effort to improve marine life, something Palau itself introduced earlier this year. Hopefully, this sunscreen ban can be another step forward in the right direction.