The Global Problem
Oxybenzone is a chemical compound found in sunscreens, cosmetics, and plastics that serves as an active ingredient to block ultraviolet (UV) rays. Recently, concerns have arisen due to the adverse effects of sunscreens containing oxybenzone on coral reefs. Oxybenzone contributes to coral bleaching by accumulating in coral tissues and reducing sunlight availability for photosynthetic organisms due to its UV-absorbing properties. Coral reefs have cultural and spiritual significance in many places, such as Hawaii, and are a global source of economic revenue for coastal regions through recreational activities and tourism, making this a global issue that needs to be addressed.
An oxybenzone ban (Act SB 2571) in Hawaii recently came into effect January 1, 2021. A paper written Downs et. al (2021) found that “oxybenzone can cause adverse effects in coral at 62 parts per trillion”, which in addition to the drastic effects caused by climate change causes devastation in to our coral reefs.
Due to the increased release of endocrine disruptors, such as oxybenzone, into water systems, females make up 85% of the minnow population downstream from Fort Macleod and Lethbridge, cities in Alberta, Canada. Upstream from those communities, only 55% of the population is female — a more normal sex ratio.
The Oxybegone Solution
We aim to make a readily scalable, robust, reliable, rapid and cost-effective measurement tool to measure oxybenzone concentrations outside of the lab. Such measurements will help us better understand and manage the impact of these issues on coral reefs. This most recent COVID-19 pandemic year emphasized the global need for great testing as a means of managing a global issue. After all, you can't manage what you don't measure!
Precautionary Principle for the Environment
Does the science behind issues about oxybenzone warrant a ban? Should the precautionary principle supersede the benefits of chemical-based sunscreens for humans in the prevention of skin cancer? Are there other suitable sun protection options that are better for coral reefs? What are the biological implications of oxybenzone as an estrogen-mimicking endocrine disruptor, both on aquatic organisms and swimmers, found in our water?
Environmentally Sustainable Solutions
- We are actively promoting the social change to physical barriers for sun protection including innovative SPF/UPF and recycled textiles in place of chemical sunscreens.
- We are researching natural oxybenzone remediation methods for future direction.
- We are more generally developing software that calculates the GHG (greenhouse gas) contributions saved from attending the annual jamboree virtually (with potential offsets for future in person events).