Coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world, supporting nearly one million species of algae, invertebrates and fish. Research has shown that some chemicals in sunscreen can awaken coral viruses, causing the coral to bleach and die. We can reduce the risk of harming coral by taking a reef-friendly approach to sun protection.
When buying sunscreen, it is important to read the ingredient list, as the term “reef safe” is not regulated and can be used as a marketing device. Make sure your sunscreen contains the active ingredients zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. These mineral sunscreens physically block UV rays without the use of harsh chemicals. They also sit on top of your skin rather than becoming fully absorbed, so it might still be visible even after it has been properly applied.
Avoid sunscreens containing the following chemicals: oxybenzone, octinoxate, avobenzone, avobenzine, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, and ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate. Also avoid using aerosol or spray-on products and opt for lotions instead. The most eco-friendly option is to wear rash guards or other coverups instead of sunscreen, especially when in the water.
Pacific Whale Foundation advocates for the use of reef safe sunscreen to help protect Maui’s fragile coral and promote a healthy ocean environment. For over a decade, we have provided reef safe sunscreen onboard our PacWhale ecotours for our guests to use freely. We also carry reef safe sunscreen products in our retail Ocean Stores.