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Impact of sunscreen on Coral reefs

Mélanie, Julie, Louis et Chloé

Topical : Impact of chemicals composing sunscreens on coral reefs

Problematic : Is sunscreen killing coral reefs ?

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Source : Coral bleaching at Heron Island Feb 2016_credit The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey / Richard Vevers
Coral reefs play an important role in our ecosystems. They shelter a very rich biodiversity attracting a lot of tourists and interesting for economy (fishing). Moreover, they form an efficient barrier protecting coasts from winds, big waves and storms. So protecting coral reefs should be a priority for everybody. But today a scientific fact is that coral reefs are dying all around the world. What is the impact of human activities on coral reefs ? What can we do to stop destroying them ?
Sunscreen is one of the many reasons corals are slowly dying. Most of sunscreens are made of oxybenzone and octinoxate. These are two endocrine disruptors toxic for corals (and humans). They affect corals development and reproduction. As they attract a lot of tourists trying to protect themselves from sunburns, a huge quantity of sunscreen finishes in ocean and kill corals. For example, Hawaii is a beautiful island with a rich biodiversity including coral reefs. The island attracts a lot of tourists bathing, snorkelling and scuba diving. But the use of sunscreen have a very bad effect on coral reefs and so on the economy of the island. Because of that, Hawaii voted a law to forbid selling sunscreens made with these toxic components. It would be the first state to take such a measure and if the governor approves this law, it would be implemented in 2021.
Interesting fact : thanks to Hawaii government decision, the secretary of french environment ministery decided to launch a study on these effect. Indeed, some of French Overseas Departments and Territories have coral reefs and are directly concerned. It is an important step for coral reefs conservation.

We will focused our study on Hawaii.

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Molasses reef / Photo by Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary-NOAA Photo Library
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Design by Julie Martinez

Repartition of work : Scrumblr link

Our resources

How our problematic emerged


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National Geographic (748 words)


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Made with answergarden, Chloé Tombois


Interview framework
Interview framework

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Photo by Louis Chapat

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Source :
1) Andrew Brooks, Scientist at California university in Santa Barbra, reef fish ecosystems specialist

Interview recording :
Interview retranscription

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Photo by Louis Chapat

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Source :
2) Kathleen Clark, Operations and Education Specialist at Kahaluʻu Bay Education Center

Interview recording part 1 : Interview recording part 2 :
Interview retranscription


Communication strategy

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Four roles :
- Mélanie and Chloé are two organizers working in the Kohala education center
- Julie and Louis are a couple of tourists

The scene takes place on the beach. The kohala center team organized a stand on the beach to speak with people about sunscreen and their impacts on coral reefs

1) Mélanie and Chloé are assembling the outreach stand, they speak about the weather, the people on the beach... It is their first day of outreach and education about sunscreen on the beach in Hawaï.
2) Julie and Louis arrive, Julie stop and ask why Mélanie and Chloé are here. Louis doesn't mind, finds a place to sit on the beach and puts sunscreen on.
3) Chloé et Mélanie explain to Julie why they are here, where they work, they talk about the new law in Hawaï and ask Julie why she is here.
4) Julie says she and Louis are on holidays. They came in Hawaï especially to dive and see the corals. She wants to see them before they disappear.
5) Mélanie and Chloé : yes corals are in danger, do you know they risk to disappear ?
6) Julie says it is because of global warming.
7) Mélanie and Chloé : global warming is a threat, like acidification of ocean, but there are also local problems, sunscreens for example.
8) Julie is surprised, she ask Louis to come, bring his sunscreen and listen to explanations.
9) Mélanie and Chloé : In the first place, do you know much about corals ? What is a coral ?
--> explanations about corals, the symbiosis with alges (zooxanthelle) and bleaching
10) Louis is sceptic : what is the link with sunscreen ?
11) Mélanie and Chloé : they look at ingredients on the sunscreen lotion, show oxybenzone and octinoxate, they explain their impacts on corals.
12) Julie is surprised and Louis is sceptic, he doesn't care about corals.
13) Mélanie and Chloé : these chemicals are also dangerous for humans because they are endocrine disruptors.
14) Louis : but I need to protect my skin from UV-rays.
15) Mélanie and Chloé : there are alternatives to chemical sunscreens --> mineral-based sunscreens and sun-blocking accessories (tshirt, hat, sunglasses).
16) Louis : ok but if I use another sunscreen, it won't change anything.
17) Mélanie and Chloé : there are a lot of tourists coming in Hawaï so if every tourists change their habits, it will have a benefit for the reef. Moreover, one drop of chemicals is toxic for 6 olymic pools of water so it is very dangerous.
18) Julie is scared and wants to throw her sunscreen. She gives clothes to Louis to cover his skin. She asks where she can buy mineral-based sunscreens.
19) Louis is complaining about the price of sunscreen. It is a waste of money because I won't come back to Hawaï and I don't live by the sea.
20) Mélanie and Chloé : it is not a waste because anywhere you are, your habit will have an impact on ocean and so coral reefs. The ocean starts in your street.
21) Julie throws her sunscreen and she and Louis leave the beach to buy another sunscreen.