Reef safe sun protection for your scuba diving holidays.
We all know that we need to put on some form of protection from the Sun while scuba diving, even here in the UK we run the risk of sunburn while we are out on a boat between dives and although our dry suits and wetsuits protect most of us, our hand and face can be at particular risk of sunburn during a day out scuba diving. So it makes sense to use a sun cream while we are on the dive boat or chilling onshore between dives and I know I always keep some sun cream in the van. But something we are only just starting to think about is what are these chemicals we are putting on our skin to protect ourselves doing to the environment and the delicate ecosystems we enjoy visiting during our scuba diving trips.
I know what you are thinking. It’s only a small bit of cream and the oceans are so vast, but what we must remember is that there are so many of us suing the water know that it soon builds up.
Say you have 15 divers on a boat using sun cream, and then look at a place like Sharm El Sheik which has around 50 boats heading out a day, that’s 750 people where sun cream going into the water each day just from that one location and doing that one sport. If you expand that to look at it globally and include all other sports like surfing, kayaking, and snorkeling, plus add all the people who just go to the beach for a day’s fun, you have thousands upon thousands of people going into the sea with sun cream on each day, 365 days a year. That’s a lot of sun cream and the chemicals its made up from, being washed into the ocean each day and these levels soon build up.
But what can we do? We can’t go without sun protection!
It’s actually quite simple. We just need to start using reef-safe sun creams. The sun creams which protect us but don’t contain harmful chemicals, and let’s face it, putting less harmful chemicals into our own body systems is a good idea anyway.
OK, so what do we need to avoid if possible?
The big one is Oxybenzone, which has been shown to increase coral bleaching, (click here for an interesting video on its effect ) but we also need to look out for Titanium dioxide and zinc dioxide Nanoparticle which, when introduced into the ocean can change into hydrogen peroxide, you know, that stuff you use to bleach your hair blond. At least we used to but now we use a chemical that isn’t so damaging to our hair and if hydrogen peroxide does that to our hair, just imagine what it's doing to the reef life. I must be clear here, with these we are looking at the Nanoparticle titanium dioxide and zinc dioxide which you will find in clear sprays, uncoated titanium dioxide and zinc dioxide which is safe for reefs as it doesn’t change into hydrogen peroxide in the water, just because life’s not confusing enough anyway.
We should also avoid Octinoxate, Butylparaben, 4-Methylbenzylidene Camphor. A recent study shows that these chemicals which are commonly found in sun creams do cause significate damage to reef systems (click here for a link to the paper)
Unfortunately, those chemicals do seem to be in most of today’s sun creams but there is a populist movement away from these chemicals and towards reef-safe sun creams with place like Hawaii looking at banning sun creams which aren’t reef safe altogether and you can do your part too just by making sure you buy reef-safe sun creams and encouraging others to do the same. If we stop buying the stuff that’s damaging the environment we love to visit while scuba diving, the companies will stop making it, people power at its best ????
Here are some links to help you find reef-safe sun creams ready for your next holiday
Badger Sunscreen SPF 30
Lovera Natural sunscreen SPF 30
Jasons Natural sunbrella sunscreen SPF 20
Bio Solis Melt-on Sun Cream - SPF 30 (100ml)
Although we want to protect the reefs and all the fishes we also want to look after ourselves, so if you do spend a lot of time outside like us scuba divers do and you find something you are not sure about on your skin, please don't just shrug it off, follow this link for some more information from the NHS.