That sunscreen that protects you? It harms Hawaii’s corals. Now one airline is doing something about that

Fish swim around coral in the Pacific Ocean off Hawaii. While reefs appear like rocks, they are made of living organisms that can be severely damaged by most sunscreen lotions and sprays.
(Tor Johnson/Hawaii Tourism Authority)

Hawaiian Airlines has joined the campaign to educate tourists about the dangers of using sunscreen products that harm marine life while on vacation in Hawaii.

Throughout April, flight attendants will be handing out samples of Raw Elements, a chemical-free, non-GMO product that does not hurt marine life, including coral.

The airline also is showing “Reefs at Risk,” an 11-minute documentary about the problem, on its flights.


In 2015, the National Ocean Service reported that a team of international scientists had found that oxybenzone “is highly toxic to juvenile corals and other marine life.” Most skin-care products — nearly 3,500 worldwide, according to a U.S. government report — contain oxybenzone, a chemical also known as BP-3.

The study found that swimmers using the common but dangerous sunscreens were contributing to problems such as DNA damage and deformities in baby coral.

“Oxybenzone can cause an adverse effect in coral at 62 parts per trillion. That is equivalent to one drop of water in six-and-a-half Olympic-size swimming pools,” Dr. Craig Downs of Haereticus Environmental Lab said in the documentary. “You don’t need a lot to cause a lot of damage.”

The film points out that even sunbathers who never enter the water also pose a risk. Sunscreen residue left in the sand can make its way into the ocean.


The airline’s website explains that while coral may look like a rock, “the coral reef is built by a tiny, clear, flowerlike animal hiding inside a calcium cup that it secretes around itself. …When you are snorkeling, in many places everything beneath you is alive — and fragile — which is why the only good place to stand in the ocean is on sand.”

In addition to providing Raw Elements samples during April, Hawaiian will be selling full-size bottles at discounted prices on flights through the end of June.

A number of hotels in Hawaii also provide samples of, and sell, the environmentally friendly sunscreen.

Info: Hawaiian Airlines’ Hawaii’s Coral Reefs and Reef Preservation


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