By Emma Grace Fairchild:
Oceanographers and marine biology researchers have been concerned with the health of the world’s coral reefs for years. Playing a critical role in entire local oceanic ecosystems, reefs exist in only 1% of all oceans yet host an different species that call reefs home. Corals are comprised of small organisms called polyps, which have a symbiotic relationship with ocean algae, allowing them to photosynthesize for energy and also giving them their unique coloring. When these polyps group together in the ocean, they create the magnificent, sprawling structures that we recognize as coral reefs. They are famous for hosting an amazing variety of creatures enjoyed by scuba divers and boaters.
Unfortunately, coral reefs are sensitive to environmental upsets and have a high risk of being damaged because of human influence. , especially from chemicals found in sunscreens, is a major culprit of coral reef destruction. Certain chemical compounds which have been used since the 1960s have been proven in recent years to harm the algae living within the polyps, resulting first in the death of polyp and then often the entire reef. One estimate is that over are washed into the oceans every year, and as early as 2008, kill coral reefs. Because coral reefs are located in tropical environments, swimmers there may wear even more sunscreen because of the extra sunlight.
However, the growing awareness of coral deaths and scientific understanding of these complex ecosystems have left us with a good idea of how to make better decisions for coral while still protecting ourselves from excess sun. Companies such as and are popular resources for alternative sun care products, but there are many small businesses with the same practices and ingredients. A , such as zinc oxide, may be an appropriate replacement for chemical sunscreens. Finally, always bring a loose shirt and nice hat to create a physical barrier from the sun on beach days.