A Dive Pro’s Guide To Sunscreen & Coral Reefs

We’ve all heard it before: Sunscreen is no good for coral reefs. But when the sun is shining and your divers are understandably wanting to protect their skin, is it even possible to keep yourself, your divers and your office safe and healthy at the same time? 

The good news is you can help your guests to be sun smart and reef safe at the same time. You don’t have to compromise one for the other. Green Fins team help us understand what the research actually says about sunscreen and coral reefs, plus five tips on how you can turn that knowledge into action.

What does the research actually say and what is the problem? 

Sunscreen is an essential item that most people pack when they go on a dive vacation. However, studies have shown even tiny concentrations of chemicals such as Oxybenzone and Octinoxate from sunscreens can cause corals to be more susceptible to bleaching and also damage their DNA in the lab. Naturally, many are concerned with potential damage to corals in the ocean.

Unfortunately, sunscreens with these harmful chemicals are still widely available. Until further research is done at the ecosystem level to truly understand the toxic effect, we should take precautions and avoid specific chemicals known to cause damage. With your help and advice, your guests will be more aware of the threats and obtain the knowledge to choose the suitable method to protect themselves and the reefs.

Poster with infographic telling guests not to use non reef-safe sunscreen to protect coral reefs

Here are some tips compiled by the Green Fins’ network to help you help your guests:

Provide or sell “reef-safe” sunscreens and UPF clothing

If you’re going to discourage your guests from using commercial sunscreens, you’ll have to provide them with alternatives. Sell “reef-safe” sunscreens and UPF (a rating system used for apparel, similar to SPF) clothing in your shop. Did we mention that is an excellent opportunity for your in-house merch? Remind them that sunscreen alone does not provide complete sun protection and any company can slap on a “reef safe” label as there’s no globally agreed definition of that term. Always check the ingredients! Covering up with sun protective clothing is the most effective method to protect their skin and the coral reefs. Also, unlike sunscreen, they don’t have to be reapplied every two hours.

Add what is not allowed in the pre-trip information

Some holiday destinations such as HawaiiPalau, Bonaire and Aruba already have a sunscreen ban in place. The bans can cover their distribution, sale or possession, so always check local laws before travelling. If you are located in any of these locations, you can inform your guests before they arrive so they are aware that they should only pack reef-safe sunscreens or that toxic sunscreen is not available for sale. If you are not located in any of the locations, you can add toxic sunscreens to the list of things not allowed while staying with you (such as dive gloves in tropical destinations). Make sure to let your guests know in your pre-trip information.

Include sun protection in briefings

Being prepared for a hot sunny day is important, especially if you’ll be spending all day out on a boat. Before hopping on the boat, along with the boat briefing where you tell your guests their expected behaviours, include tips for sun protection as well. Remind your guests to bring their reef-safe sunscreens or sun-protective clothing with them. Encourage them to cover up instead of slather on.

If they insist on using sunscreen, let them know that at the very least they should apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before coming in contact with the water. Explain why; to ensure absorption, so sunscreen doesn’t get washed off in the water and start to affect wildlife. Remember that although mineral sunscreens have not currently been linked to coral bleaching, new research is being done all the time and advice is likely to change as scientists learn more. Don’t forget to give briefings under shaded areas to minimize direct sun exposure, especially between 10am to 4pm when the sun is at its strongest.

Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate!

Being sun smart isn’t only about protecting the skin. Divers usually get too excited on their holidays and get busy exploring the islands and beaches during surface intervals. They might even forget to stay hydrated! Keep reminding them to drink plenty of fluid, especially when they are doing multiple dives a day. The heat from the sun and breathing compressed air during dives can cause dehydration, and we don’t want anyone to fall sick on their holiday, do we!? Provide drinking water for refill in the resort and on the boats, so there’s no need for single-use plastic bottles while trying to stay hydrated.

Stay cool

While sunscreens and UPF clothing cover most areas of the body, let’s not forget the face and eyes. Caps, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses are great for protecting the eyes from UV rays. Point out to your divers places they can have a break during the surface intervals, whether under umbrellas or palm trees. To avoid overheating while diving, suggest to your divers that they should take their wetsuits off or keep them at their waist during surface intervals. Also, to leave their wetsuit off until the last moment before kitting up.

Infographic explaining how non reef-safe sunscreen can harm coral reefs. Pictures a cartoon of a diver swimming, a coral and someone holding a bottle of chemical sunscreen.

Access Green Fins Free Sunscreen Posters by clicking here.

This article first appeared on PADI as a partnership collaboration with The Reef-World Foundation
Click here to see the original blog.