What’s in this, anyway? The importance of Reef Safe Sunscreen

Coral Reef in Grand Cayman - Crazy Crab

Be sure to pack your sunscreen when coming to visit us here in sunny Grand Cayman! However, there are things to consider before you buy one.


The coral reef colors

When you see vibrant colors on our coral reefs when snorkeling with Crazy Crab, what you are viewing is the success of a mutualistic partnership between coral (an animal) and zooxanthellae (photosynthetic algae). Coral by itself is white. These algae live in coral stomach tissue and play a role similar to that which plants play for us; they turn the corals’ carbon dioxide waste into oxygen, sugars, and fats that the coral needs to live. When corals are stressed by temperature or chemical changes in the ocean, they evict their zooxanthellae and thus lose their color, known as “coral bleaching”. If conditions do not return to normal promptly, the coral is in trouble! Without zooxanthellae, many hard corals are unable to produce nutrients necessary for survival and die, which leaves surrounding fish and animal life homeless.

What does this have to do with sunscreen, you ask? Well, it’s estimated that each year up to 6,000 tons of sunscreen washes into coral reefs. And remember those chemicals we mentioned that are harmful to coral? Two examples are commonly found in sunscreens: oxybenzone and octinoxate.

Reef Safe Sunscreen in Grand Cayman - Crazy Crab

Reef safe sunscreen now widely available

Never fear, there is hope! Communities (and Crazy Crab) are encouraging the use of reef safe sunscreens which do not contain two of the most harmful chemicals. The state of Hawaii has even put forth a bill to ban sunscreens containing these chemicals. California now offers reef-safe sunscreen at dispenser stations along some beaches, making it easy for beachgoers to protect their skin in a way that does not harm coral reefs.

What can you do?

Check sunscreen ingredients before you stock up for your vacation, and say no to brands that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. If you’re buying sunscreen in Cayman, always ask for reef safe brands. Kirk Supermarket in George Town offers a selection. We sincerely appreciate you taking the effort to use reef safe sunscreen and helping our beautiful coral reefs stay just the way you’ll remember them – colorful.