Palau to ban toxic sunscreens to save coral reefs

Palau's dive sites typically hosted about four boats an hour packed with tourists, leading to concerns a build-up of chemicals could see the reefs reach tipping point
Palau's dive sites typically hosted about four boats an hour packed with tourists, leading to concerns a build-up of chemicals could see the reefs reach tipping pointPHOTO: REUTERS

KOROR (Palau) • The tiny Pacific island nation of Palau will ban "reef-toxic" sunscreens from 2020 in what it claims is a world-first initiative to stop chemical pollution killing its famed corals.

Palau, which lies in the western Pacific about halfway between Australia and Japan, is regarded as one of the world's best diving spots, but the government is concerned its popularity is coming at a cost.

A spokesman for President Tommy Remengesau said there is scientific evidence that the chemicals found in most sunscreens are toxic to corals, even in minute doses. He said Palau's dive sites typically host about four boats an hour packed with tourists, leading to concerns that chemical buildup could see the reefs reach tipping point.

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

The government has passed a law banning "reef-toxic" sunscreen from Jan 1, 2020. Those importing or selling banned sunscreen from that date face a US$1,000 (S$1,380) fine, while tourists who bring it into the country will have it confiscated.

"The power to confiscate sunscreens should be enough to deter their non-commercial use, and these provisions walk a smart balance between educating tourists and scaring them away," Mr Remengesau told Parliament.

The ban relates to sunscreens containing chemicals including oxybenzone, octocrylene and parabens, which covers most major brands.

 

Numerous scientific papers have pointed to a link between sunscreen chemicals and coral reef degradation, said executive director Craig Downs at the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Hawaii.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2018, with the headline 'Palau to ban toxic sunscreens to save coral reefs'. Print Edition | Subscribe