By Bernadette H. Carreon
Palau became the first nation in the world on 1 January, 2020, to ban common commercial sunscreen products for containing chemical sunscreen ingredients that are harmful to the coral reefs.
Palau, known as an underwater wonder is also home to healthy reefs.
The ban are for sunscreens that contain chemicals including oxybenzone, octocylene, 4-methyl-benzylidene camphor and parabens and triclosan which is found in most common sunscreen products in the market.
In a press statement, Palau's President Tommy Remengesau said "the harmful effects of chemical sunscreen are well-documented by scientists around the world, and that includes our local experts."
Toxic sunscreen chemicals have been found throughout Palau's critical habitats and in the tissues of our most famous creatures.
"When divers, snorkelers, fishermen, naturalists... all the people from around the world who love Palau, when these people hear about our sunscreen ban they understand. Our reefs, our fish, and our ecosystems are their priority as well," he said.
In a 2016 paper, Craig Downs, executive director of the Virginia-based non-profit Haereticus Environmental Laboratory and fellow researchers found oxybenzone, "poses a hazard to coral reef conservation and threatens the resiliency of coral reefs to climate change" by deforming young coral and damaging coral DNA."
Palau, meanwhile said it was influenced by a 2017 UNESCO report from the Coral Reef Research Foundation, which found sunscreen chemicals including oxybenzone in the golden jellies of world-famous Jellyfish Lake.
That report identified 11 specific sunscreen chemicals, with a recommendation that they are banned from use in or near the iconic marine lake.
This recommendation formed the core of Palau's legislation, which prohibited all 11 chemicals and empowered the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Environment, and Tourism to add other ingredients as identified by future research," the statement said.
President Remengesau said it's exciting for Palau to be a pioneer in taking strong action against harmful chemicals that could damage the corals.
Palau Visitors Authority (PVA) is part of the education awareness campaign to ensure that visitors coming to Palau who will be diving, snorkelling, going to the beach are abreast of this new law.
Stephanie Nakamura Managing Director of PVA said that signs will be put up at the airport to ensure that tourists know that possession and use of the "reef toxic" sunscreen is prohibited and will be confiscated.
Tours companies were also informed of the new law and with brochures, flyers, and stickers to be disseminated to also educate tourists that there are alternative products in stores in Palau.
Stores in Palau have already cleared its shelves of sunscreens that contain the prohibited chemicals. It is now offering "reef safe " sunscreens.
Under the law, imports of sunscreens containing the chemicals will also be prohibited. Importers that will violate the law will get a fine of US$1,000 fine.