Reef Safe Sunscreen on Maui

Dec 28, 2017

Credit JeepersMedia / Flickr

This week is a busy one for Hawai‘i’s visitor industry. And while another record year is expected for tourism, more people at the beach means plenty of sunscreen ends up in the ocean. There’s now a movement in Maui County to ban sunscreen containing chemicals that scientists say are harming the reefs. We get more from HPR contributing reporter Colleen Uechi of The Maui News

At the beaches along Maui's southern tip, Jeff Bagshaw educates people about reef-safe sunscreens. 

Bagshaw is a volunteer for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. He says visitors tell him every day they come to Maui for the reefs. But Bagshaw is worried those reefs are in danger because of certain chemicals in sunscreen.

In Maui County, lawmakers are trying to ban the sale and use of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. They're common in sunscreen and help prevent sunburns. But scientists say they can also harm the development of coral reefs and marine life. 

Earlier this year, bills to ban the two chemicals stalled at the state level. Now Bagshaw is among dozens who hope Maui County will be the first to pass a ban. Some tour companies said they're already promoting reef-safe sunscreen with customers. 

But county attorneys point out many legal challenges. For one, both chemicals are federally approved. And, some could argue that a ban would interfere with interstate commerce, which is protected by law. 

Council Member Elle Cochran introduced the bill. She said businesses can still sell sunscreen in Maui County - they'll just have to be reef-safe versions.

For now, the council has postponed the issue until it can hear from more reef experts.