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Palau is First Country to Ban ‘Reef Toxic’ Sun Cream

The Pacific nation of Palau has become the first country in the World to ban sun cream which contains toxic chemicals that are harmful to corals and sea life.

As of Wednesday this week, any sun cream that includes common ingredients, including oxybenzone, will not be allowed to be worn or sold in the country.

Tommy Remengesau, Palau’s President said: “We have to live and respect the environment because the environment is the nest of life.”

The island nation markets itself as a “pristine paradise” for divers.

A lagoon in Palau’s Rock Islands is a Unesco World Heritage site. The country has a population of around 20,000 dotted across hundreds of islands.

Mr Remengesau told the AFP news agency:

“When science tells us that a practice is damaging to coral reefs, to fish populations, or to the ocean itself, our people take note and our visitors do too.

“Toxic sunscreen chemicals have been found throughout Palau’s critical habitats, and in the tissues of our most famous creatures.

“We don’t mind being the first nation to ban these chemicals, and we will do our part to spread the word.”

But does ‘Reef Safe’ mean ‘Reef Safe’?

Palau may be the first nation to ban these coral damaging sun creams, but various states of the US have already implemented such bans and according to Consumer Reports ‘Reef Safe’ may not be as ‘Reef Safe’ as we are led to believe:

The federal government requires sunscreen claims to be “truthful and not misleading,” but the term “reef safe” doesn’t have an agreed-upon definition, and therefore isn’t strictly regulated by government. This means sunscreen manufacturers aren’t required to test and demonstrate that such products won’t harm aquatic life, Downs says. 

“Even if you have something relatively safe,” says Downs, “having 5,000 people getting into the water at a single beach, the oils from most sunscreen products can induce toxicity.”

At the moment the ‘Reef Safe’ term appears to be more of a selling point for the cream manufacturers to slap on the products targetting the ever-growing environmentally conscious if slightly naive consumers rather than a genuinely safer and friendlier product for the seas. Even still, its a step in the right direction.


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