(Mirror Daily, United States) – Taking a dive in the ocean after applying sunscreen lotion damages coral reefs around the globe, according to a new study. Researchers found that a single drop of sunscreen in a small area is enough for the toxic chemicals to start attacking.

The study, conducted in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Hawaii, is the result of a chance encounter. Several years ago, a group of researchers vacationing on one of the Caribbean beaches got the idea for this research from a vendor who was waiting for the day’s mass of tourists. “Just wait to see what they’d leave behind,” the man said: “a long oil slick.”

Researchers found that even a tiny amount of sunscreen is enough for delicate corals to begin damaging – the equivalent effect of a water droplet in six Olympic-sized pools. At the same time, the study revealed three different ways in which oxybenzone, the harmful ingredient, can break down the coral, depleting it of rich nutrients and turning it white as ghosts.

Even though beachgoers and divers seem to be the only ones to blame for adding to the demise of the coral reefs found in shallow waters just off shore, the team found that even those who don’t enjoy going to the beach are equally guilty.

Slathering sunscreen before a run, covering the children before they go outside and trying to get an even tan in the park are also damaging to the reefs. How? All these people go back home and wash the sunscreen off – and where does that water go?

There are some cities like Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Ocean City, Md. Which have sewers that dispose of the tainted wastewater that comes from public beaches. This practice sends all our personal care products into the ocean, ready to kill the corals with the cocktail of chemicals they bring with.

Furthermore, heavy rains often cause the sewers to overflow, leading to a flooding of the rivers and streams with tons of waste mixed with stormwater. And it’s not just sunscreen – products like birth-control pills can also alter the way organisms develop.

Even though the study has analyzed the situation only on the two islands, researchers estimate that up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotions are dumped on coral reef annually, and much of it contains oxybenzone, at least in some degree. Studies show that at least 10 percent of reefs located in popular tourism areas are at risk of high exposure.
Image Source: ONCA