Pacific nation Palau bans "reef-toxic" sunscreens

The Pacific nation of Palau will ban sunscreen from 2020

It is believed that the ban will be the first in the world to come into effect.

The tiny Pacific island nation of Palau will ban "reef-toxic" sunscreens from 2020 in what it claims is a world-first initiative to stop chemical pollution killing its famed corals.

Stores selling prohibited sunscreen will face fines of no more than US$1,000 ($1,387), and bottles will be confiscated from tourists upon entry into the country.

"This short but important bill has the potential to make a lasting impact on the environment here", President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr., wrote in a letter accompanying the legislation.

The main issue stems around Palau's dive sites, which can see four boats an hour taking tourists to see the reef.

"On any given day that equates to gallons of sunscreen going into the ocean in Palau's famous dive spots and snorkelling places", he told AFP.

The government has passed a law banning "reef-toxic" sunscreen from January 1, 2020.

Remengesau said in a statement that the penalties find the right balance between "educating tourists and scaring them away".

Most sunscreens sold in the US contain one of the 10 chemicals that are now banned in the country, but alternatives do exist.

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Palau's ban comes after Hawaii in July banned the sale of sunscreen containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate from 2021 in an attempt to protect its reefs.

Palau has always been a pioneer in marine protection, introducing the world's first shark sanctuary in 2009, a move that has been widely adopted.

Craig Downs, executive director at the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Hawaii, said other nations would be watching Palau's move closely.

Dr Downs said if snorkellers and divers wanted to be more environmentally conscious, they could cover up and wear a sun shirt to reduce the amount of sunscreen they need to use. They are keen to avoid the fate of other countries, which have had to close beaches and other tourist destinations due to tourism.

"There's also been nearly a dozen papers that look at the concentration of these chemicals in the ocean, along coastal areas, along certain coral reefs".

Downs called on sunscreen manufacturers to "step up and innovate", saying the chemicals used for UV protection had been largely unchanged for 50 years.

"With the rise in skin cancer rates and the availability of more effective sunscreen actives such as micronized zinc oxide and titanium dioxide", a 2017 study with similar findings notes, "serious doubts about the relative prevention benefit of personal care products containing oxybenzone must be raised".

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