A law passed in the U.S. Virgin Islands last month will ban the importation, sale and possession of sunscreens containing oxybenzone, octinoxate and octocrylene, which some say are deadly to corals and threaten the health of coral reefs.
These are ingredients found in many of the everyday sunscreens that most beachgoers use. A complete list of safe sunscreens, which includes zinc oxide and mineral sunscreen, is at www.islandgreenliving.org, a website produced by the Island Green Living Association, a St. John-based nonprofit.
The chemicals targeted in the sunscreen ban wash off people's bodies when they swim and cause coral bleaching, which kills the coral, according to advocates of the law.
The full ban takes effect on March 30, but retailers are prohibited from receiving shipments containing these ingredients after Sept. 30.
"Tourism in the U.S. Virgin Islands is our lifeblood, but to ensure that we continue to entice visitors with our beaches and natural beauty, we need to protect our coral reefs as part of our quest to initiate sustainable tourism," said USVI gov. Albert Bryan Jr.
Harith Wickrema, president of the Island Green Living Association, which has been part of the campaign about the hazards of sunscreen since 2016, said that "in addition to environmental and human harm, tourism-based economies will experience financial devastation if coral and marine life die off."
Coral reefs are vital to protecting coastlines and supporting marine life, "yet the Caribbean has lost 80% of its reefs due to a variety of issues," according to Wickrema.