Palau plans sunscreen ban to save coral

Pacific island to introduce world-first 'reef-toxic' sunscreen ban

Pacific island to introduce world-first 'reef-toxic' sunscreen ban

In an attempt to protect the coral reefs that divers so admire they have dubbed them the underwater Serengeti, the Pacific nation of Palau will soon ban many types of sunscreen.

Anyone importing or selling banned sunscreen from that date faces a $1,000 fine, while tourists who bring it into the country will have it confiscated.

A spokesperson for the President of Palau, Tommy Remengesau stated that there is significant scientific evidence which provides factual information that most of the sunscreens in the market today are extremely toxic to corals, even when administered in minute doses.

The main issue stems around Palau's dive sites, which can see four boats an hour taking tourists to see the reef.

"On any given day that equates to gallons of sunscreen going into the ocean in Palau's famous dive spots and snorkelling places", he said.

"And the levels we're seeing out in the environment are definitely toxic", he said.

In a law passed this week, Palau defines the banned "reef-toxic" sunscreens as containing any one of 10 chemicals, including oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are found in the majority of sunscreens sold in the US, according to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.

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The ban will prevent sunscreens containing a range of damaging chemicals from being manufactured, imported or sold in Palau. The problem led the government to create the new law, which follows a similar law passed in Hawaii in July.

Palau has always been a pioneer in marine protection, introducing the world's first shark sanctuary in 2009, in a move that has been widely imitated.

According to a report by Channel NewsAsia, the nation - which lies halfway between Japan and Australia - is considered to be one of the best diving destinations in the world, an accolade that is responsible for boosting the country's tourism industry.

"They don't want to be like Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, where they've had to shut down beaches".

"There's also been nearly a dozen papers that look at the concentration of these chemicals in the ocean, along coastal areas, along certain coral reefs".

Scientists have found that some chemicals in sunscreen can be toxic to coral reefs, which are a vital part of the ocean ecosystem as well as a popular draw for tourists. There are fears these chemicals make coral more susceptible to bleaching and could stunt the growth of baby corals and that sunscreen pollution can affect reefs up to 5km away.

He said there were some sunscreens containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide that were not reef toxic but added: "The other alternative we've been pushing is sunwear - cover up, wear a sunshirt".

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