We may have grown up with the slip, slap, slop message, but it turns out that our use of sunscreen could be putting the Great Barrier Reef at risk.
Oxybenzone, a chemical ingredient found in more than 3500 types of sunscreen worldwide, is damaging coral, according to a new international study.
The scientists responsible for the study found that the chemical causes baby coral to die by damaging its DNA and causing it to encase itself in its own skeleton.
James Cook University water quality expert Jon Brodie, who did not take part in the study, emphasised the importance of the findings.
“We’re contaminating the ocean with a whole range of stuff which we have little idea of what the real risk is,” he told the Cairns Post.
“Something like this just adds to the concern about the state of the world’s oceans.”
The chemical is released into the water by swimmers wearing sunscreen and also by waste water.
Meanwhile, Dr Craig Downs of Virginia’s Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, who led the study, advised the use of products containing oxybenzone be reconsidered in coral conservation areas.
“Any small effort to reduce oxybenzone pollution could mean that a coral reef survives a long, hot summer or that a degraded area recovers,’’ he said.
Brodie suggested visitors to the Great Barrier Reef could instead wear a stinger suit for sun protection, eliminating the risk of pollution.