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Impact of sunscreen on coral reefs needs urgent attention, say scientists

More research is needed in order to understand the impact that sunscreen is having on the world’s coral reefs, say scientists at the University of York. 

The UV-filter compounds used in sun protection products can have a toxic effect on marine organisms, with research suggesting that sunscreen may cause the abrupt and complete bleaching of hard corals.

However, according to the researchers at York, the majority of studies focus on freshwater organisms and ecosystems making the true risk of the compounds difficult to establish.

The majority of research does not translate easily to the unique ecology of coral reefs, and therefore long-term environmental monitoring would be needed in tropical and subtropical climates in order to truly understand the toxic effects.

The researchers have said that better research is needed to highlight the priority areas and better inform regulators and policymakers in order to improve conservation and management of coral reefs, whilst ensure that human health can continue to be protected by UV-filter products.

Dr Brett Sallach, from the University of York’s Department of Environment and Geography, said: ‘Given the declining status of coral reef ecosystems and the many stressors they already face, it is important to identify the potential occurrence and toxicological risks associated with UV-filter exposure to reef ecosystems.

‘Our research aimed to identify what research was out there and what gaps we had in our knowledge. Importantly we needed to understand what areas could be considered a priority for future attention in order to understand the impacts of these products, and hopefully prevent any further damage to the environment.

‘Undoubtedly products that can help protect against the harmful effects of UV radiation on human health are hugely important, and therefore we need reliable and extensive evidence to suggest any changes or scaling back of these products.’

Yasmine Watkins, who led the study added: ‘We make four recommendations for priority research areas going forward, based on our consultation with experts. We need more work in the area of understanding UV-filter toxicity under different climate conditions, and long-term study into exposure and recovery of coral reefs.

‘We also need to know realistic exposure to these compounds and how long they exist in the marine environment, to determine what the ‘safe’ limits are.’

Photo Credit – Pixabay



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