Save the Reef: Hawai'i's Sunscreen Law
This is a post I’ve been wanting to do for a while! If you have been to my orientation, you have heard my speech on my passion for all things eco-friendly, sustainable and supporting local companies. And my equally (just enough) passion for protecting our endemic animals like the Hawaiian monk seals and Hawaiian green sea turtles and how not all “reef friendly labels” are created honestly. You see, I grew up here, and watched (vocally) about so much that kills our way of life, and realized, you know… most people are more than willing to help, if you just know to ask.
When Hawai'i shut down for COVID-19, it was rough for everyone, but it gave the opportunity for our island to regenerate and for the first time in 40 years I saw the island as alive as I ever have.
Good things come from persistence and small moves, and in January 2021 as we reopened, Hawai'i finally passed the first Reef-friendly Sunscreen Law (in the world!) and let me tell you, this was a long time coming! Unfortunately, we are still ironing out a few of the details. Details like how do we get all the other harmful ingredients out of the ocean? How do we actually stop people from bringing it from home and wearing it in our oceans? Do we fine the people, the stores, the merchandiser for selling contraband sunscreen in our stores? But as the government figures out these big questions, all local people know, Kauai’s coconut wireless is the fastest way to get the word out, so we teach one, who in turn teaches the masses and together we save our reef, our eco system, our aquatic wildlife, and our culture, history and way of life along with it.
From the bottom of my heart, I really appreciate your reading and educating yourself on this topic and more so your participation in preserving all of this, because it means more to us that we could ever explain!
The simplified cheat sheet to reef friendly sunscreens:
If it is made on one of the Hawaiian Islands, its likely reef safe- we hold each other accountable, believe me. This also has the bonus of supporting local, and since we use it daily, it needs to actually work.
Harmful reef ingredients include:
Unfortunately, the term “reef friendly” is not regulated, so you can’t always trust products with this description. It's important to check the “active ingredients” label to ensure that reef-harming chemicals are not included. The size of minerals can also have an impact. Be sure to use micro-sized (or non-nano) mineral sunscreens to avoid nanoparticles, as these smaller particles can be toxic in high concentrations. It’s also advised to stick with lotions and avoid spray or misting sunscreens, especially those that contain titanium dioxide as it can be harmful to your health if inhaled.
Please steer clear of products containing:
Any nanoparticles or “nano-sized” zinc or titanium (if it doesn’t explicitly say “micro-sized” or “non-nano” and it can rub in, it’s probably nano-sized)
Any form of microplastic, such as “exfoliating beads”
Lastly, as we know the reef is home to many creatures, some with teeth and spikes like eels and sea urchins, others like fish and turtles so please do not stand or walk on their homes (with or without water shoes) walking on the reef destroys it, so swim as soon as possible.
Mahalo on behalf of all locals and wildlife. We appreciate your diligence and respect for the island.
See you in the ocean!