Featured image from National Geographic – (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/01/080129-sunscreen-coral.html)
Going diving in a reef? Heading in the ocean for a cool down or body surfing? Common summer vacation trends, yet we do not always think about the consequences of our protection measures. The sun and UVA/UVB rays are harmful to skin, no doubt about that. What there is doubt about is whether our vacation habits, whether they be sunscreen or body oil for tanning, are not impacting the ocean when we carry those products in the water with us.
Re-application for any summer skin product, especially sunscreen, means that at some point that product comes off of our skin in the water. Unlike a bathing suit that sometimes slips off in a big wave, or the socks I’ve seen floating in the water, the compounds from these products cannot just be picked out of the water. The chemical components of your coconut oil blend for tanning or your SPF 100+ remain in the water, and are having devastating impacts on marine ecosystems, like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Divers and tourists alike commonly coat themselves in skin protection before diving, which creates a direct pollution source of chemicals being introduced into the water that all of the coral, fish, whales, and endangered species native to that area are then exposed to. These compounds are seen as changing the acidity of the ocean water, which makes it difficult for coral to survive. Their protective algae layer, with enough environmental stress, will eventually die or remove itself from the coral; this strips the coral not only of its protection but of its food source as well, because corals are primary producers that rely on the products of photosynthesis for food. Primary producers also support the rest of the food chain, so needless to say these aquatic environments are in danger.
Reef protection is a whole other conversation, and is a subject worthy of a novel and not a singular blog post. Sun protection, as I have found, is a lot more thorough and easier to manage with wearing of surf clothing and something more than a string bikini. I’m not condemning showing off your beach body, but I am condemning polluting the environment. Rash guards, UVA/UVB guards that are not chemically treated – both of these things offer more protective and reliable sun protection than sunscreen anyway. Studies have also shown that most sunscreens that claim to be above SPF 40 or SPF 50 offer no more protection than basic level sunscreen. If sun protection is something you are concerned about, it is worth considering the switch. I have had multiple skin surgeries due to sun damage from when I was younger, and I am much happier and have had more successful results with a longsleeve surf shirt and shorts than I have had with sunscreen protecting me, even when applied thoroughly. I can also go in the ocean with a clean conscience now as well.
As for the tanners out there, the same goes. Dipping into the ocean after a tanning session may seem wonderful, but at what cost to all the species that frequently habituate the ocean? It’s as easy as taking a quick rinse to get that body oil off before you go in, or maybe try to differentiate your tanning sessions from your swimming or surfing sessions.
The bigger picture here is that when you enter the ocean, you’re entering the home of millions of species. Probably billions. These species have no other place to go, and we are guests to their habitats and environments. If you had a house guest that came in and dumped some kind of chemical there that ruined your food, would you invite them back? Certainly not. The species that live in the ocean have door they can lock, they have no way of keeping us out. So we have to maintain a respectful treatment of their environment while we visit, or else we will be responsible for destroying their homes and the species themselves.
Here are some quick shopping links and informative links. I personally bought my sun gear from Athleta and have not been disappointed with quality at all, so I included the link to their gear. It is a little pricey, so there are some cheaper options out there, and I included an article or two about ocean pollution:
- National Geographic on Sunscreen as Ocean Pollution:
- The Guardian on Sunscreen Harming Coral Reefs:
- Athleta Sun Protective Clothing link:
- LL Bean Women’s Swimwear