a group of chairs and umbrellas on a beach
Virgin's Departure Beach in Barbados

Best idea: Don’t find out what you had until its gone…

What if the very people who love what lies under the sea the most are in fact the ones causing the most damage to its future? Recent scientific studies show that roughly 78% of consumer sunscreens contain harmful chemicals known to bleach and damage coral, accelerating irreparable damage to these beautiful and essential marine ecosystems. Key West just announced plans to join a growing list of islands banning many of the world’s most popular sunscreens, in hopes of protecting its great assets.

a road with palm trees and people on itThe Sunscreen Problem

Days in the sun without sunscreen are hardly advisable, but what’s in your sunscreen may cause a burn which lasts far longer than a few days, at least for sensitive coral reefs. Chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate found in many popular sunscreens such as Coppertone or Neutrogena have been proven to bleach and damage coral, which effects their ability to survive and thus attract fish and marine plant life. See the problem?

2021 Sunscreen Pledge

Key West, Florida, pledged to ban sunscreens containing these chemicals by January 2021, with enforcement and fines planned for those who break the new rules. Those with doctors notes would of course be exempt. Hawaii, the Pacific island of Palau and Caribbean island Bonaire have already announced similar 2021 plans. It’s widely expected that Australia will soon join as well.

a group of chairs and umbrellas on a beachA Global Challenge

There’s one major problem with banning popular sunscreens containing oxybenzone or octinoxate. The alternatives are almost twice as expensive and harder to find, which makes doing the right thing a class issue. Travelers will be far more likely to choose an environmentally friendly sunscreen if price or accessibility isn’t a purchase factor. Each 2021 island has pledged to sell the very best chemical free products on arrival, which goes a long way towards accessibility, but still doesn’t tackle price.

Virgin Group Weighs In

In conversation with Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, GSTP learned that Virgin plans to invest heavily in making these alternative sunscreens more affordable and viable to all travelers, especially those on Virgin’s new cruise line, Virgin Voyages. Cost shouldn’t be a factor in doing the right thing, and Virgin is planning initiatives such as buying in bulk, and using reusable dispensers to help curb the issue and minimize the environmental footprint of its business.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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1 Comment

  1. What really happens is you go to a tour, excursion etc. and this turns into a money maker for little proof of an issue. Think $5 for some tour operator to spray you once with “coral safe” sunscreen.

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