By: Ramon Tilanus
Whether you’re American, Canadian or German, you likely had the privilege to travel to an exotic location at some point during your life. You and your family are excited to take some time off, relax on beaches, check out some foreign cultures and snorkel through pristine coral reefs. Your anticipation drives you to go to the local supermarket for some last minute beach essentials. A towel featuring a funny meme, polarizing sunglasses and 50SPF sunscreen to protect you and the little ones. Whether you already consider yourself to be a responsible tourist or not, everyone should strive to be one. And it all starts at your local supermarket and that tiny bottle of sunscreen.
While one of the causes of coral bleaching is solar radiance, where corals in shallow waters receive an overexposure to sunlight. Another, very avoidable, potential cause of coral bleaching is how people protect themselves against overexposure to sunlight. Most of the sunscreen found on the shelves of convenience stores, drug stores and online contain a chemical, called Oxybenzone. In 2015 a study was published demonstrating Oxybenzone ‘s effects on cell cultures and young coral. However, the relevance of this study is somewhat disputed, as some say it was poorly controlled and methodological mistakes were made.
While humans cause coral bleaching in many different ways, such as climate change, over fishing, agricultural and urban run-offs, etc.; there’s only one potential cause where tourists can make a change. If Oxybenzone is indeed a cause of coral bleaching, the reefs, diving schools, resorts and fishermen surviving and thriving thanks to these pristine, nearby reefs, are in big trouble. Oxybenzone’s ability to absorb and stabilize ultraviolet light means it is found in a plethora of everyday products used by most tourists. Sunscreens, hair sprays, cosmetics; Oxybenzone is probably being applied by snorkelers around the globe in one way or another. Luckily, the cosmetic use of Oxybenzone is limited in some countries. The European Union, for instance, prohibits sunscreens from containing more than 6% Oxybenzone. However, Caribbean countries, which boast numerous fragile reefs appreciated by curious tourists, never set such limits.
With most governments and most cosmetic manufacturers seemingly not seeing the potential harm caused to our oceans, it is up to you, the tourist to make an informed decision. Allow yourself a minor inconvenience next time you’re at the convenience store. Browse through the sunscreen options and briefly check the ingredients, if you plan to scour some reefs soon. It doesn’t take long, and it will remind you of all the colorful, diverse reefs and its happy inhabitants, which you had the privilege of seeing.
If you enjoy ecotourism, being a responsible tourist is all the more critical, as you are there to see some of nature’s most fragile, but undisturbed beauty. As a tourist, one should feel a personal responsibility for the destinations. There are many tiny adjustments one can make to reduce ones overall footprint and help to ensure these beautiful destinations will still drop people’s jaws in the near future.
Article also published in punta-cana.info
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