Team:Jiangnan China/Description


Distribution of coral reefs

Coral reefs are mainly distributed in Southeast Asia, northern Australia, Central America, the Malay Islands and other waters (Fig.1). The global reefs have an area of about 284,300 square kilometres and are worth over $100 billion a year for products and resource services for humans, especially as the annual net economic benefit for global tourism is about $10 billion.

Fig.1 Main Distribution Map of Coral Reefs

Take the most representative Coral Reef Beach resorts, Hawaii and Great Barrier Reef, for example: In 2015, the number of tourists in Hawaii exceeded 8 million, up 8% year over year; Great Barrier Reef also generates over A$3 billion (about 14.5 billion RMB) per year.

In addition to stimulating the economic benefits of driving tourism, coral also has extremely important ecological value.

Most marine organisms are difficult to survive in tropical water that lack nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients, known as "blue desert". Coral reefs are like an oasis in the desert, providing a shelter for many marine organisms (Fig.2). Although coral reefs account for less than 0.1% of the total ocean area, they live potentially as high as 9 million species, more than 25% of marine life, and are the regions with the highest marine species diversity.

Fig.2 Coral Reefs Provide a Shelter for Many Marine Species

The bleaching of coral reefs can lead to the extinction of large numbers of fish and marine organisms, thus leading to the collapse of marine ecosystems.

Conflicts Between Chemical Sunscreen Use and Coral Protection

Low chemical sunscreen concentrations in seawater are enough to cause a range of coral diseases and coral bleaching (Fig.3). Among them, mainly octocrylene [1], oxybenzone, octyl-methyloccinnamate and its similar derivatives [2].

Fig.3 Mitochondrial Dysfunction of Coral Triggered by Octocrylene

However, about 14,000 tons of sunscreen are washed out and deposited into the ocean, about 10% of which are sunscreen components such as oxybenzone, far exceeding the lowest concentration of coral bleaching, and about 40% of coastal reefs are mortally threatened by chemical sunscreen [3] (Fig.4).

Fig.4 Hazardous Chemical Sunscreen Has Been Detection in Many Waters of the United States

Because coral growth and development have extremely high environmental requirements, scientists predict that the existing reefs will go extinct after 50 years.

Therefore, protection against coral is imminent. Cutting off the source of chemical sunscreen is a more practical solution compared to solving other problems such as global warming and sea acidification, which can also effectively slow down the current trend of large coral bleaching.

Current Defects in Other Coral Protection Methods Based on Synthetic Biology

At present, main synthetic biological methods used to help corals survive under adverse conditions such as reactive oxygen enrichment and high temperature are metabolically transforming the zooxanthellae to produce some special substances such as glutathione. The same idea can be applied to protect coral survival in environments containing harmful chemical sunscreens.

However, based on the information we obtained from Professor Liu Sheng of the South China Sea Institute of Oceanography of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, we learned that even if we improve the resistance of coral through metabolic transformation in the laboratory, it needs to undergo long-term and large amount of artificial cultivation and then transplanted into the ocean to fundamentally solve the problem. Besides, the artificial cultivation of coral requires a lot of manpower and material resources, and it is difficult to get financial support from enterprises and the society because the current environmental protection industry is difficult to bring revenue.

At the same time, we also learned from Qin Liangyun, a master student from the School of Oceanography of Guangxi University that the separation of zooxanthellae is difficult at present, and in the coral- zooxanthellae symbiosis, there are other bacteria and fungi, which not only means that the work of transforming zooxanthellae is difficult, but also means that it is probably difficult to achieve the effect we want without considering other strains' functions and effects in corals.

Therefore, the current protection method to enhance the coral resistance has some defects, and it is difficult to achieve. The production of coral and marine environmentfriendly biological sunscreen can solve problems from the source and produce certain economic benefits. It can achieve the purpose of coral protection, and it can produce certain economic benefits to promote the sustainable development of scientific research, and also enables investment enterprises to obtain considerable economic benefits.

Preliminary Research on Sunscreen Market

For the idea of producing coral-friendly bio-sunscreen, we first conducted a preliminary market research questionnaire.

Fig.5 Preliminary Questionnaire

With the answers to Q1 and Q2 of our preliminary questionnaire, we learned that the majority of the public (80%) are only willing to reduce the frequency of using chemical sunscreen rather than abandoning sunscreen entirely for environmental purposes even after learning of chemical sunscreen is harmful to coral reefs. This survey results, preliminary proof of the current strong demand for sunscreen, which already exists as a daily necessity.

Fig.6 Market Questionnaire

With both answers of Q1 and Q2 of our market questionnaire, we confirm consumers' acceptance and inclusion of bio-sunscreen. According to the data, even if the performance of biological sunscreen is slightly less compared with the current chemical sunscreen on the market, most consumers still have consumption intention. According to a cosmetics report of China, a large number of cosmetics and skin care products fell during the epidemic, while sales of sunscreen products increased (Fig.7). This is to explain the future broad market prospects of sunscreen products.

Fig.7 Sunscreen Sales Have Soared During the Epidemic

In addition, we visited Guangzhou Longhui LTD., a company focuses on special cosmetics raw material research & development and sales of cosmetics raw material suppliers, and Lubrizol (Shanghai) LTD. We communicated for sunscreen development and natural products, synthetic biological cosmetics with the sales managers of both companies. We also learned from the interview that the current popularity of natural product cosmetics is increasing. As our core functional UV absorbent, Gadusol comes from a natural source like fish eggs, and will certainly add luster to our product sales and promotion.

Defects in Similar Products in the Market

There has always been bio-friendly sunscreens on the market, but commonly the biological ingredients are applied as an additive rather than as core functional components.

In addition, most of the natural sunscreen ingredients on the market, such as sulforaphen, ferulaic acid, carotenoids, tetrahydrolycopene, etc., are plant sources. As a biological sunscreen dedicated to environmental protection, its impact on the ocean should serve as an important measure. Many plant-derived substances do not exist in the ocean, and it is difficult to explain whether they affect the coral and marine environment. As a natural substance in many marine species and coral reef ecosystems, Gadusol has a more reliable safety performance compared with the plant-derived natural sunscreen.


    1. Stien D , Clergeaud F , Rodrigues A , et al. Metabolomics Reveal That Octocrylene Accumulates in Pocillopora damicornis Tissues as Fatty Acid Conjugates and Triggers Coral Cell Mitochondrial Dysfunction[J]. Analytical Chemistry, 2018.

    2. Mccoshum S M , Schlarb A M , Baum K A . Direct and indirect effects of sunscreen exposure for reef biota[J]. Hydrobiologia, 2016, 776(1):139-146.

    3. Downs C A , Kramarsky-Winter E , Segal R , et al. Toxicopathological Effects of the Sunscreen UV Filter, Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3), on Coral Planulae and Cultured Primary Cells and Its Environmental Contamination in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands[J]. Archives of Environmental Contamination & Toxicology, 2016, 70(2):265-288.