Hawaii has taken the first step towards banning the sale of sunscreens that contain chemicals toxic to coral in a bid to safeguard its reefs.
"This new law is just one step toward protecting the health and resiliency of Hawaii’s coral reefs," David Ige, the Hawaiian Governor, said as he signed the bill bringing the proposed ban into law.
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Scientists found that oxybenzone and octinoxate can cause young developing coral to die, as well as bleaching, DNA damage, and deformities to the reefs.
While Hawaii says its coral reefs are currently relatively healthy, mass bleaching seen in underwater ecosystems such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has raised the profile of these potentially fragile habitats.
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The ban, due to go into effect in January 2021, means that sunscreens with the two chemicals will be available only to those with a prescription, and that brands including Banana Boat and Coppertone will no longer be allowed to be sold on the Hawaiian islands.
Despite being toxic to corals, the chemicals are approved by the US’s Food and Drug Administration and there is no evidence that they are harmful to humans.
Mr Ige said the US state would also need to continue other efforts to protect coral, including fighting invasive species, pollution from land runoff and climate change.
Hawaii’s nearshore reefs generate some $800 million per year, and tourists flock to see the bright yellow butteryfish species, as well as angelfish and parrotfish.
Critics of the bill have said that there aren’t enough independent studies to verify the harmfulness of the chemicals and that the new measure won’t stop things such as rising sea temperatures, which is a major factor in coral bleaching.
There are also concerns among local shop owners that the ban will discourage people from buying sunscreen at their stores, pushing them to online retailers instead.