An integral aspect of our products and brand, “Reef-Friendly” reflects our use of natural and mineral ingredients instead of chemical sunscreen compounds and nanoparticles known to bleach and kill coral reefs. While people often buy environmentally friendly sunscreens to protect our tropics, the right sunscreen contributes to the health of all ecosystems. For us, reef-friendly means eco-friendly.
Far from the nearest coral reef, the Cowichan river in Vancouver can see over 1000 tubers a day during the summer and has a rich history as a fishing destination. Over the past few years, this ecosystem has become a focal point for research on the effects of chemical sunscreen on freshwater ecosystems. The Cowichan has seen drastic reductions in the number of flies hatching. As this essential base layer of the river’s food chain and ecosystem diminishes, so have populations of fish and wildlife that depend on them. Researchers are pointing to sunscreen as a major driver of this food chain disruption. While the community surrounding this ecosystem has drawn attention and research to this issue, chemical sunscreen pollution and its environmental impacts are certainly not unique to the Cowichan River.
Although sunscreen specific freshwater ecosystem research is in its early stages, chemical sunscreen compounds have been proven toxic to freshwater organisms in several ways. For example, oxybenzone is an endocrine disruptor in fish. The chemical alters estrogen levels, prevents reproductive success, and damages DNA. Nanoparticles also exhibit toxicity in freshwater ecosystems. One study exposed water fleas, an important layer of freshwater food chains, to chemical sunscreen which left them unable to navigate their environment. "Losing a Daphnia population would put all of the species that rely on them at risk of starvation, and in certain conditions could cause the local ecosystem to collapse" says Arron Boyd, stressing the importance of further research.
While chemical sunscreen compounds enter rivers, lakes, and other waterways directly through recreational activities, runoff and municipal wastewater contribute as well. Sunscreen washed off in the shower or sink will drain to wastewater facilities that are not meant to filter out all chemicals, distributing them throughout your watershed and into the ocean. In many places, when storm runoff exceeds the capacity of wastewater systems, wastewater will bypass treatment facilities entirely, dumping municipal wastewater, storm drain wastewater, and all accompanying pollutants directly into waterways and oceans.
While research has uncovered several toxic effects of chemical sunscreen compounds, continued research is necessary to fully understand these relationships. Historical case studies on chemical pollution show us that both salt and freshwater ecosystems are extremely vulnerable; an ounce of prevention is certainly worth a pound of cure. Regardless of how or where we apply or use chemical products, they are likely to find their way downstream through our watersheds. Shop chemical-free products and take your TropicSport mineral sunscreen upstream to protect all of our ecosystems.