Last month, Hawaii made national history by becoming the first state to ban toxic sunscreens. Governor David Ige signed SB 2571, Act 104 that would prohibit the sale and distribution of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate in Hawaii. The bill goes into effect on Janurary 1, 2021.

"Studies have documented the negative impact of these chemicals on corals and other marine life," said Gov. Ige in a press release. "Our natural environment is fragile and our own interaction with the earth can have lasting impacts. This new law is just one step toward protecting the health and resiliency of Hawaii's coral reefs."

Hawaii's reefs are home to over 500 different species and are a vital resource to humans due to the food they provide and the protection they offer our shorelines. In recent years, reefs have been threatened more than ever due to urbanization, overfishing, invasive species, marine debris, recreational overuse and toxic chemicals such as those found in traditional sunscreens. According to the US National Park Service, more that 6,000 tons of sunscreen end up in Hawaii's waters each year, posing a serious threat to coral reefs.

"Spending over 20 years in the ocean around my home on Maui, I have noticed a change to our reefs and our beaches," said Zane Schweitzer. "Long shore drift is natural and beaches are meant to change but the reef should still be colorful and alive. We see a lot more bleached coral and I believe it's because our rivers are diverted to flow through toxic golf courses and visitors not being aware of the products they use that are proven to harm the environment and our reefs."

Lots of brands are adopting mineral-based sunscreens. Photo: Serge Johnson

In a lot of ways, Hawaii is an environmental trailblazer. They're raising awareness about something that most people weren't even aware was an issue and they're setting a precedent for what will hopefully become the new normal.

"I think the ban in Hawaii is setting an example for other states and countries to follow," said California-based SUP star Shae Foudy. "We are in a day and age where we can no longer ignore the pollution that we are causing. I am really hoping that California decides to step up and take action in the oxybenzone ban as well! The power of spreading knowledge about this issue is powerful but action is necessary at this point."

While most traditional sunscreens contain toxic chemicals, there are number of brands that put the environment first. Companies such as Raw Elements, AllGood, Avasol, and Vertra are just a few of many brands making mineral-based, reef-safe sunscreens.

"In my lifetime, I have witnessed the degradation of the reefs in my backyard. It has been proven that oxybenzone and octinoxate can lead to coral bleaching and destruction when washed off in the ocean," says Maui-based paddler Annie Reickert.  "As a water athlete, I feel it's my responsibility to make sure that doing what I love does not destroy what I love. Making sure that my sunscreen is reef safe is one small step in the right direction."

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