Hawaii may become the first state to ban sunscreen with ingredients that harm marine life. The “Aloha State” is considering Senate Bill 2571, a bill that will prevent sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinate without a prescription. These are ingredients that have been found to contribute to coral bleaching and stunted growth of undersea creatures.
The scale of the issue is immense: 55 gallons of sunscreen end up in the ocean each day off of Maui alone. Scientist Craig Downs considers this as much an environmental problem as an economical one: if Hawaii’s reefs are damaged, their status as a tourist attraction will suffer as well. It’s not just a problem in Hawaii, either. Representative Nicole Lowen said that a fifth of the world’s coral is dead, and in 30 years we may see the death of an additional ninety percent of reefs.
The issue hits particularly close to home for Ms. Lowen, whose west Hawaii Island district has seen a dramatic decline in the health of their reefs since the third major coral bleaching event hit in 2015.
The bill’s introduction was something of a celebration. Senator Mike Gabbard performed a short song about the dangers of oxybenzone, and attendees received samples of eco-friendly sunscreen.
A conference committee will review the bill. Representative Gene Ward, a member of the committee, is optimistic about the process but is also clear-eyed about potential changes that may come up during the review. Despite this, it is a major legislative event for the state, and sets a precedent for similar action elsewhere.