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Hawaii achieves a world first with new coral reef protection legislation!

Alicia Wood

May 2018

Coral in South Maui

This is a bill near and dear to my heart, as I have been working on the Maui version for years now!

May 01, 2018, Hawaii state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 2571, which prohibits the sale and distribution of over-the-counter sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate in Hawaii. Oxybenzone negatively impacts coral health in several different ways and is a threat to Hawaii’s reefs in particular. Oxybenzone can be toxic to baby coral at levels as low as 62 parts per trillion. That's the equivalent to one drop in 6.5 Olympic swimming pools. In a 2015 study, 11 out of 13 tested areas in Maui’s waters showed levels several times that amount.

Recently published studies prove Oxybenzone and Octinoxate are having negative impacts on a variety of marine organisms, including sea urchins, algae (including the native limu, which is harvested for food), and fish that depend on the ability to change sex, such as parrotfish and wrasse. Oxybenzone can also negatively impact human health, especially in children, and was named the Contact Allergen of the Year in 2014 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.


Coral reefs provide an ecosystem for many marine organisms, protect the shoreline by dispersing wave energy, which lessens storm damage, and provide recreational and cultural value, as well as support the tourism based economy. In fact, it has been estimated that Hawaiʻi’s nearshore reefs annually generate $800 million in gross revenues. There are many great reasons to protect coral!


Detractors of the bill claim that there are many other factors impacting the health of coral reefs, so why bother focusing on sunscreen ingredients. It is true that the most dangerous threat to coral reef health is rising ocean temperatures but it turns out oxybenzone reduces the temperature at which coral bleaches, making the coral’s worst enemy even stronger! While we can’t individually, immediately make an impact on rising ocean temperatures, we can all choose what sunscreen to wear.

Others worry that this decision will result in less people wearing sunscreen, leading to a rise in skin cancer. However, there are safer alternatives that can protect the health of the people on our shores, such as clothing and zinc based sunscreens. Zinc oxide is actually the only FDA approved sunscreen ingredient to offer completely full protection from both UVB and UVA rays.

My personal favorite is Raw Love Sunscreen. Not only is it the only Maui based sunscreen company that is approved by the FDA, but it smells amazing and works! I’ve had one tin for over a year now, and I’m a Kihei resident, so a little goes a long way. You can follow this link to purchase. If you prefer to shop around a bit, here are some other options to check out.


This week lawmakers showed that, in Hawaii, we value the health of our ecosystems and community. Mahalo to everyone who had a part in making this happen. It’s been a great ride! Next step is continuing to get the word out!!!

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