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  • Writer's pictureVictoria Chadsey

Hawaii | Reef Safe | Learn More

Updated: Oct 9, 2022

Coral Reefs, Rainforests of the Sea & Our Connection

By Sophie Garrison

Coral Reefs are one of our planet’s natural wonders. If you have had the experience of viewing them, consider yourself lucky as they make up less than 1% of the sea floor. But what is a coral reef? Rock, plant or animal? Coral reefs are limestone structures produced by living coral animals. Corals are simple creatures with a huge impact. They build on top of themselves creating massive structures that are visible from space! Think of them as cities under the sea. When you find a piece of coral on the beach you can marvel at all the tiny little holes knowing that each hole was a home to both plant and animal. Coral reefs are home to 25% of all known marine animal and plant species they contain a higher biodiversity than rainforests! I hope you are convinced that coral reefs are incredible! So, what does this have to do with you? There is something we are doing that is making the coral reefs sick, but the good news is that it is any easy fix that benefits not only the reef but us as well. Everything is connected.

What we do on the land impacts the ocean. We head to the beach, lather up on sunscreen as we have been advised to protect us from UV rays from extended sun exposure. Then we jump into the ocean maybe without knowing that the chemicals in our sunscreen are detrimental to the coral reefs. According to “Scientists have found that an estimated 14,000 tons of sunscreen is deposited into our oceans and reefs every year! That’s 28,000,000 lbs. oxybenzone and octinoxate are the most popular chemicals found in non-reef safe sunscreens and they are also the most potent killers of our coral reefs.” Governor David Ige said in a statement “Studies have documented the negative impact of these chemicals on corals and other marine life, our natural environment is fragile, and our own interaction with the earth can have lasting impacts.”

To keep the reef healthy and protect yourself from the sun it its best to wear rash guards, hats and clothing coverups. If you need to wear sunscreen, check the label! Make sure your sunscreen does not contain the following harmful substances:

  • Oxybenzone

  • Octinoxate

  • Octocrylene

  • Homosalate

  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor

  • PABA

  • Parabens

  • Triclosan

  • Any nanoparticles or “nano-sized” zinc or titanium (if it doesn’t explicitly say “micro-sized” or “non-nano” and it can rub in, it’s probably nano-sized)

  • Any form of microplastic, such as “exfoliating beads”

Note that even if it is labeled as reef friendly it’s important to check the label for yourself some brands we known and trust are not reef safe including Neutrogena, Alba and Sunbum. Our skin being the largest organ in the body, and we want to take care of it by both protecting it from the sun and by considering the impact these chemicals found in sunscreen are are having on you through your skin as well. Ditch the chemicals and go with brands like Raw Love or Raw Elements.

Reef Save Brands:

Brands containing Oxybenzone Octinoxate OctocryleneHomosalate:

The second thing you can do to make a difference is to spread the word! Once you know better you can choose to do better. Many people still spray themselves with chemicals that are harmful to themselves, the coral reef and all the diverse plants and animals that make that their home. So, by spreading awareness and sharing your knowledge we can all work together to protect our selves and our planet. Jean-Michel Cousteau says it best, “Protect the ocean and you protect yourself” Feeling Inspired? I sure hope so. If you find your self in an area with coral reef enjoy it with your eyes and try your best to avoid stepping on the coral reefs. Like sunscreen this is just as much for your safety as it is for the marine live living in the coral reefs.

Coral can cut your feet. In addition, a type of Sea Urchin called Wana is found on reef flats and shallow reef slopes, where they are often wedged into crevices in the reef framework. This urchin has toxic spines. You definitely don’t Want to step on one!

See below for more ways to protect coral reefs from the National Ocean Service. Our everyday choices have huge impacts, your have the power to make a difference. As stated by Margaret Mead “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Let’s be the change.

Written by Sophie Garrison; check out here classes with In-House Retreats on Tuesdays and Wednesday mornings in West, Maui.

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