Maui aims to ban all chemical sunscreens; Big Island takes steps to protect Hawaii’s coral reefs

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — On Friday, Nov. 19, the Maui County Council unanimously passed a bill prohibiting the sale, distribution or use of non-mineral sunscreens, expanding on efforts to protect the environment. A free mineral sunscreen dispenser was also unveiled at the Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area.

Bill 135 was introduced by Maui County Councilmember Kelly Takaya King, chair of the Council’s Climate Action, Resilience and Environment Committee. The bill recognizes that many non-mineral sunscreens pose a threat to the health of coastal waters, coral reefs and marine species.

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According to Maui County Council officials, the bill will head to Maui Mayor Michael Victorino for his decision, and when it is signed into law it will take effect on Oct. 1, 2022. Those who violate Bill 135 will be subject to penalties, enforcement procedures and fines.

In a statement from Councilmember King, she said that coral reefs are the island’s first defense against erosion due to rising sea levels.

She also stated chemical sunscreens can cause “extensive harm” to reef systems and marine life, along with climate change and ocean warming threats, storm runoff, as well as the escape of liquid or gas from wastewater injection wells.

“Non-mineral sunscreens are an aggressive pollutant. Bill 135 is one important step toward protecting the health and resilience of our reef and marine life by removing a significant ecological stressor.”

Maui County Councilmember Kelly Takaya King, chair of the Council’s Climate Action, Resilience and Environment Committee

Chemical sunscreens — or non-mineral sunscreens — use octinoxate, octocrylene and oxybenzone. Mineral sunscreens use zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

There are 16 active ingredients that are currently used in UV filters in sunscreen products, including those mentioned above. Out of the 16, only zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are “deemed generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE) by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).”

“Our reefs are invaluable,” explained King. “Coral reefs are essential for the livelihood of many residents of Maui County, the perpetuation of cultural practices, and the protection of coastal areas. Our marine environment provides opportunities for recreation, inspiration, and scenic beauty for residents and visitors. We must do what is necessary to preserve and protect it.”

Additionally, the first non-chemical, mineral sunscreen dispenser in a Hawaii State Park was revealed Friday at the Waialea Bay section of Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area. Big Island officials said this step relates to the growing movement and legislation to get ocean and beachgoers to only use mineral-based sun protection to protect the state’s sensitive coral reef systems.

Recently, Hawaii has attempted to reduce the volume of sunscreen chemicals that flow into the ocean, and a statewide ban of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate went into effect in January 2021.

“Certainly, there has been great progress and increased awareness from both visitors and residents about the damage chemical sunscreens cause. However, I still cringe when I see people applying chemical sunscreens or using aerosols. I want to approach them and explain that this is damaging the very reefs they’re about to snorkel on.”

Dena Sedar, an interpreative specialist with the DLNR Division of State Parks (DSP)

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Sedar also added that the reason the Waialea section was chosen for this new dispenser is because the location had extensive coral cover and was affected by coral bleaching events. Chemical sunscreens have been shown to slow or prevent coral reef recovery from bleaching events, disease and other disturbances.

She hopes other beach locations across Hawaii will soon have their own dispensers.

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