Coral reefs are in jeopardy. That’s a fact. The Great Barrier Reef has undergone unprecedented die-off due to bleaching in up to 50 percent of the reef. The Australian government has actually issued its highest response level, and has stated that the death of the coral reefs is likely due to rising water temperatures from an extended period of warmer water temperatures this summer.

When the water temperature rises (even just 1 or 2 degrees Celsius), it stresses the corals until they expel tiny algae that live inside their tissues. The algae is important to the corals because it provides them with much of their food (and gives them their beautiful color!). If the heat eases up, the corals can recover, but if the water stays warm for too long — like in the case of the Great Barrier Reef — the coral reefs will die.

In addition, greenhouse gas emissions acidify the water, causes the calcium skeletons to dissolve. In the last year alone, 12 percent of the world’s reefs have been bleached, and scientists are worried that some could disappear forever.

As if that isn’t enough, we also have to worry about nutrient runoff from farms and its effects on the coral reefs. In addition, pollution and overfishing are hurting the reefs.

And it’s not just the Great Barrier Reef that’s being affected. Reefs from Florida to Australia have been suffering bleaching since 2014 in the longest bleaching event in recorded history.

The reefs are crucial to the ocean’s health as they are home to a quarter of the ocean’s species. Not only are the reefs hurting, but the animals who call them home are in danger of extinction.

What’s Sunscreen Got to Do With it?

Surprisingly, sunscreen makes an impact on the coral reefs as well. A recent study found significant amounts of oxybenzone, an active ingredient in many sunscreens, around reefs in the Virgin Islands and Hawaii. The oxybenzone is responsible for leaching the coral of its nutrients, leading to its bleaching. In the study, it was found especially in areas that attract many swimmers and divers.

In fact, 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotions end up in coral reefs throughout all the oceans of the world every year. And it’s not only from sunscreen worn at the beach. Any time you wear sunscreen, even if you’re far from the beach, it will end up in the waterways once you clean it off.

While there are many factors contributing to the death of coral reefs, it’s certainly worth considering finding alternatives to sunscreen with the ingredient oxybenzone.

“We have lost at least 80 percent of the coral reefs in the Caribbean,” co-author of the previously mentioned study, Craig Downs, said. “Any small effort to reduce oxybenzone pollution could mean that a coral reef survives a long, hot summer, or that a degraded area recovers.”

What to Do

So what can be done? We all know the risks of too much sun exposure to our health and safety. It wouldn’t be smart to stop using sunscreen altogether. Instead, you can lessen your impact on coral reef destruction by using a reef-friendly sunscreen, made with the natural ingredients titanium oxide or zinc oxide, instead of sunscreens with oxybenzone.

Get Involved

Learn more, and get involved with one of these organizations that work for reef protection:

Use the Right Sunscreen

Do your part, and protect the coral reefs while protecting your skin. Use Deter Mineral Reef Safe Sunscreen SPF 30 whenever you’re going to spend time outdoors.