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article imageStudy Says Sunscreen Lotion Threatens Coral

By Bob Ewing     May 24, 2008 in Environment
A new study commissioned by the European Commission says that the sunscreen lotion that we used to protect us from the sun is a major contributor to coral bleaching.
Human behaviour has an effect on the world. A new study highlights this statement. A study, that was recently commissioned by the European Commission, states that the sun screen lotions that are used by beach-going tourists worldwide are a major cause of coral bleaching.
The cream-based ultra-violet (UV) filters that are used to protect skin from the harmful effects of sun exposure caused bleaching of coral reefs even when used in small quantities.
Coral reefs are biologically productive and diverse of ecosystems, and directly sustain half a billion people. However, approximately 60 percent of these reef systems are threatened by a deadly combination of climate change, industrial pollution and excess UV radiation.
The recent study was published in US journal Environmental Health Perspectives and has now added sun screens to the list of damaging agents. The study estimates that up to 10 per cent of the world's reefs are at risk of sunscreen-induced coral bleaching.
The chemical compounds in sunscreen along with other personal skin care products have been detected near both sea and freshwater tourist areas.
Prior studies have shown that these chemicals can accumulate in aquatic animals, and biodegrade into toxic by-products.
The research team was led by Roberto Danovaro at the University of Pisa in Italy. The team added controlled amounts of three brands of sunscreen to seawater surrounding coral reefs in Mexico, Indonesia, Thailand and Egypt.
Even small doses provoked large discharges of coral mucous which is a clear sign of environmental stress within 18 to 48 hours. The complete bleaching of corals had occurred within 96 hours.
In seawater surrounding coral branches, virus levels increased to 15 times the level found in control samples. This suggests that sunscreens might stimulate latent viral infections, the study found.
In addition, pesticides, hydrocarbons and other contaminants have been found to induce algae or coral to release viruses, hastening the bleaching process.
The World Trade Organisation estimates that approximately 10 per cent of tourism takes place in tropical areas, with 78 million tourists visiting coral reefs each year.
It is estimated that 4,000 to 6,000 tonnes of sunscreen are released annually in reef areas, with 25 per cent of the sunscreen ingredients on skin released into water over the course of a 20 minute submersion.
There are about around 20 compounds acting as UV filters and preservatives in sunscreens. The study examined seven including parabens, cinnamates, benzophenones and camphor derivatives.
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