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Hawaii Passes Bill Banning Sunscreens That Can Harm Coral Reefs

Hawaii’s legislature has passed a bill that bans all sunscreens which contain chemicals that harm coral reefs.

In a world’s first, sunny Hawaii has passed legislation that would prohibit the sale of any sunscreens that contain chemicals known to be harmful to the coral reefs that line the island chain’s shores. If signed by Governor David Ige, the ban would go into effect on January first, 2021.

Hawaii is the first state to enact such a law and indeed believed to be the first government body in the world to do so.

The bill was introduced by state Senator Mike Gabbard (D, Kapolei-­Makakilo) and bans sunscreens which contain two chemicals known to be deadly to corals: oxybenzone and octinoxate. These chemicals have been linked to coral bleaching--when coral reefs suddenly die off, leaving only a desert-like field of bone white coral.

via star adviser

The science on how these chemicals kill reefs has actually been known since the late 2000s. Oxybenzone, octinoxate, and several other chemicals can awaken dormant viruses that live inside the algae that form the symbiotic relationship that feeds coral reefs. Once the viruses awake, the algae all die, which in turn causes the delicate balance of organisms to all fall like a house of cards.

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In an email to The Star Adviser, Senator Gabbard applauded the passing of this chemical ban. “Amazingly, this is a first-in-the-world law,” he said. “So, Hawaii is definitely on the cutting edge by banning these dangerous chemicals in sunscreens. When you think about it, our island paradise, surrounded by coral reefs, is the perfect place to set the gold standard for the world to follow. This will make a huge difference in protecting our coral reefs, marine life, and human health.”

The bill was supported by various environmental activist groups, such as the Friends of Hanauma Bay, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, Surfrider Foundation, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The bill was opposed by Bayer, maker of the popular Copperstone brand of sunscreens.

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