Green Okinawa (15) Coral Safe Sunscreen
The Resource Center is compiling information on how to be more environmentally friendly in Okinawa. In the spirit of learning from each other, please share your knowledge with us and we'll share it with fellow OISTers!
Climate change, ocean acidification, and coastal development are the greatest threats to coral reefs. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects that coral reefs will decline by a further 70–90% as the temperature of the planet increases by 1.5°C, and >99% of coral reefs are likely to be lost if the temperature rises to 2ºC (ref 1).
Enjoying the coral reef whilst diving and snorkeling can, unfortunately, cause physical damage to it. Onna Village has joined the international ‘Green Fins’ initiative to protect and conserve coral reefs by promoting sustainable diving and snorkeling practices (ref 2). They are developing guidelines for diving instructors to teach clients about protecting the corals whilst diving (ref 3). Joining Green Fins is part of Onna Village's broader Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda.
Did you know the sunscreen you are putting on your skin could harm corals? Studies have shown that chemical ingredients in sunscreen damage the coral reef (ref 4 and ref 5). In 2018, Hawaii banned sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate (ref 6).
Here are some tips from us about how to look after the coral reef in Okinawa. Please share your knowledge with us and we will update the post.
Green Fins Guides
To learn more about diving sustainability, check out the free guides from Green Fins (ref 4).
Chemical-based sunscreen can damage coral reefs
It's a good idea to avoid sun care products using chemical ingredients such as oxybenzone (ref 5 and ref 6). Even if you are not swimming, sunscreen washed off in the shower can eventually find its way into the ocean. In total, an estimated 14,000 tons of sunscreen enter the oceans each year (ref 6).
Another tip is to avoid aerosols and sprays as they create a chemical cloud that settles on the sand and washes into the ocean with the tide.
Opt for mineral sunscreens that use ‘non-nano mineral ingredients as they are less damaging to corals. The minerals used are either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. They block UV light from reaching your skin by either reflecting the light or absorbing it. Mineral sunscreens tend to be less irritating to the skin than chemical sunscreens. That can be particularly beneficial for children and anyone with sensitive skin (ref 8). Non-nano means that the ingredients are larger than 100 nanometers and are less likely to be absorbed by marine life.
Here are the words to look for on the label
Zinc oxide 酸化亜鉛
Titanium dioxide 二酸化チタン
Where to buy mineral sunscreen in Okinawa
Matsumoto Kiyoshi drugstores sell Surfer’s Diane sunscreen (link)
Wear UV protection clothes
Physical sunscreens are a good alternative to chemical sunscreens, but they still wash off. Even natural ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide don’t belong in the ocean, so the only truly natural solution is to wear clothing rather than sunblock.
Protect yourself from the sun well by wearing a rashguard in the water and reduce the amount of sunscreen you need to apply. Sports shops in Okinawa sell long-sleeved swim tops, swim leggings, full bodysuits, and more. Often yoga leggings made from fast dry material can be worn in the water. We searched for swimwear and rashguards made in Japan from recycled materials and found them through Patagonia Japan (ref 7).
Bubbles Wetsuits Okinawa is a shop in Okinawa repairing and selling tailor-made wetsuits.
Read other Green Okinawa posts in the series here
Contact us here
The post was developed in collaboration with Mirijam Neve, Tim Ravasi (OIST Marine Climate Change Unit), Mai Barnes (OIST Resource Center) and Kate Whitfield.
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Special report: Global warming of 1.5 ºC, Summary for policymakers, https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/
- Green Fins https://greenfins.net/
- Japan Green Fins https://greenfins.net/countries/japan/
- Review of environmental effects of oxybenzone and other sunscreen active ingredients, Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2019, Samantha L.Schneider and Henry W.Lim. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0190962218321893#bib34
- Environ Health Perspect. 2008, Sunscreens Cause Coral Bleaching by Promoting Viral Infections, Roberto Danovaro, Lucia Bongiorni, Cinzia Corinaldesi, Donato Giovannelli, Elisabetta Damiani, Paola Astolfi, Lucedio Greci, and Antonio Pusceddu https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2291018/
- What sunscreens are best for you—and the planet? National Geographic, 2019 https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/article/sunscreen-destroying-coral-reefs-alternatives-travel-spd
- Patagonia https://www.patagonia.jp/home/