The loyal tube of sunscreen becomes your life savior at the beach on days when the sun blazes against your skin. The lotion squirmed out of the tube is as essential to you sometimes as is water to fish. This lotion, however, is an (un)necessary evil. Its inconspicuous disadvantages make it a lethal threat to one of the most significant components of marine ecosystems – coral reefs.
What are coral reefs?
Coral reefs are underwater structures that are formed from the skeletons of marine invertebrates called corals. These reefs are made up of thin layers of calcium carbonate present in the skeletons of corals.
Needless to say, coral reefs are substantial components of the marine ecosystem. They provide shelter, food and substrate for a plethora of other organisms, and hence, are indispensable.
India is gifted with four coral reefs. These are the Gulf of Mannar, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep and the Gulf of Kutch.
What is coral bleaching?
As global warming continues to heat oceans, the phenomenon of coral bleaching has come under the spotlight.
Coral reefs exhibit a symbiotic relationship with an algal species called zooxanthellae. Zooxanthellae not only provide reefs with essential nutrients, but they are also responsible for their vibrant colours. As oceans become warmer, these algae die or are forced to leave the reef. In their absence, coral reefs eventually lose their colour and become white, giving rise to what is known as coral bleaching.
While coral bleaching as such may not lead to the death of corals, the occurrence and sustenance of this phenomenon for prolonged periods of time may do so.
Effects of sunscreen on coral reefs
Sunscreens contain noxious chemical substances such as as oxybenzone, Benzophenone-1, Benzophenone-8, OD-PABA, 4-Methyl benzylidene camphor, etc. These chemicals adversely affect coral reefs by damaging their DNA, encumbering their reproduction capabilities, causing their discoloration and so on.
When we swim out to the ocean with sunscreen smeared on our skin, certain dangerous chemicals seep into the water. We end up ticking another one of the many boxes of the potential reasons behind the end of the marine environment.
Though coral reefs enjoy the highest level of legal protection in India, under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, that is not enough to protect them from lotions that we squeeze out of tubes and rub over ourselves, often unaware about their adverse effects.
The simple fact that we are capable of learning is a hopeful reassurance for the future of our environment. All it takes for us is to learn what we are doing wrong, and what can be done to better ourselves. That’s all that takes to assure ourselves the future that we yearn.