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Coral Reefs Article

Key West, Hawaii take legislative steps toward
protecting coral reefs
By Washington Post, adapted by Newsela staff on 06.03.19
Word Count 962
Level 1080L
Image 1. Fish swim through a portion of coral reef. One cause of the loss of coral is coral bleaching. Photo by: Ray Berkelmans, Australian
Institute of Marine Science
Some of the top-selling sunscreens soon will no longer be sold in parts of the Florida Keys. It's part
of an effort to protect coral reefs.
The Key West City Commission voted February 5 to ban sunscreens containing oxybenzone and
octinoxate. The two chemicals have been shown to be damaging to coral reefs. Beginning in
January 2021, Key West will ban such sunscreens from sale within city limits. The city is taking a
cue from Hawaii, which became the first state to pass a similar ban.
"To me, this is a pretty black-and-white issue," Key West Mayor Teri Johnston said ahead of the
Thousands Of Sunscreens Out There
"There are thousands of sunscreens out there, and we have one reef," she added. "And we have an
opportunity to do one small thing to protect that. I believe it's our obligation."
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Sunscreen brands such as Banana Boat and Hawaiian
Tropic sell some products without oxybenzone and
octinoxate. However, there are still many containing
those chemicals on store shelves.
For years, oxybenzone and octinoxate have been used
to protect people's skin from the sun's ultraviolet
radiation. However, some research has shown that
skin care products containing these chemicals can
wash off during swimming or bathing. They can seep
into the water and damage coral reefs, studies show.
Johnston said that the Great Florida Reef, which is
the largest reef in the continental U.S., is important to the tourist town both environmentally and
economically. Banning the sunscreens containing those chemicals was simply "the right thing to
do," she said. Leading up to the vote, documentation was presented on both sides of the debate,
she said. Yet it seemed to her that there were other sunscreens that would protect people's skin, as
well as marine life.
In a 6-to-1 vote, the city commission banned the sale of sunscreens containing the chemicals.
Consumer Awareness
The mayor said she hopes the ban will also bring awareness. She explained that although the city
cannot keep visitors from bringing banned sunscreens to its beaches, it can discourage them.
"I hope it will make consumers more aware and responsible for their actions," Johnston said in a
phone interview with The Washington Post on February 6. The goal, she said, is for people to "flip
over their sunscreens and look at the ingredients and make wise choices for themselves and their
Last summer, Hawaii passed a law banning companies from selling and distributing sunscreens
that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. The bill was opposed by various companies and business
associations. Even some doctors opposed it. They worried it might discourage people from wearing
sunscreen. Still, Governor David Ige signed the bill. It made Hawaii the first state to pass
legislation designed to protect marine ecosystems by banning such sunscreens.
The U.S. Geological Survey has called America's coral reefs "imperiled national treasures," stating
that the undersea structures made of skeletons and living coral are "dying at alarming rates."
That's a problem for both marine animals and humans. Coral reefs do more than give a home to
sea creatures. They also provide food, medication and tourism jobs for people. Their value has
been estimated at $30 billion to $172 billion per year, says the Smithsonian's National Museum of
Natural History.
Bleached, Sick Coral
"Unfortunately, people also pose the greatest threat to coral reefs," says the Smithsonian. Some
threats include too much fishing, pollution, warming and changing ocean chemistry. Reefs are
reeling from bouts of coral bleaching due to warming sea temperatures linked to climate change.
This article is available at 5 reading levels at https://newsela.com.
Earth's climate has heated up. This is due to the burning of fossil fuels including coal, oil and
wood. Bleached coral turns white and is more likely to die.
Some reefs have been destroyed, and "in many places
reefs today are a pale shadow of what they once were,"
says the Smithsonian.
The National Park Service has urged people to take a
"reef-friendly" approach to sunscreen shopping. One
option is to buy skin care products that contain
titanium oxide or zinc oxide. Those are considered
natural alternatives to the two chemicals that will
soon be banned from sale in Key West.
The park service stated, "Sunscreens are among the products we are encouraged to use liberally to
protect ourselves from the sun's harmful rays. However, researchers are finding that while
protecting humans, some compounds in many sunscreens can harm the coral on our reefs.
Researchers testing the effects of sunscreen on coral explain that chemicals in sunscreen can
awaken coral viruses. The coral then becomes sick." It bleaches and often dies.
Sunscreen Washes Off In The Ocean
The agency added, "We may not realize that the products covering our skin wash off when we
enter the water, and it adds up! Research tells us that 4,000 to 6,000 tons of sunscreen enters reef
areas annually. This does not spread out rapidly or evenly across the entire ocean, but
concentrates on popular tourist sites. It is estimated that 90 percent of snorkeling or diving
tourists are concentrated on 10 percent of the world's reefs. This means that our most popular
reefs, such as those in our national parks, are exposed to the majority of sunscreens."
This article is available at 5 reading levels at https://newsela.com.