More research is needed on the environmental impact of sunscreen on the world’s coral reefs, say scientists from York University.
Concerns about the number of cancer cases as a result of overexposure to UV sunlight have led to extensive production and use of skin protection products. The chemical compounds used in these products, however, can enter the environment at production sites as well as by consumer use.
It is already known that UV filter compounds have toxic effects on marine organisms, but research in this area is limited and does not take into account certain variables, such as differences in environmental conditions.
Dr. Brett Sallach, of the Department of Environment and Geography at York University, said: “Given the declining status of coral reef ecosystems and the many stressors they already face, it is important to identify the potential occurrence and toxicological risks associated with UV filter exposure to reef ecosystems.
“Our research aimed to identify what these studies were and what gaps we had in our knowledge. It was important to understand which areas could be considered priorities for future attention in order to understand the effects of these products and hopefully prevent further damage to Environment.
“Undoubtedly, products that can protect against the harmful effects of UV radiation on human health are extremely important and that is why we need reliable and comprehensive evidence that will suggest any changes or reductions in the number of these products.”
Researchers have consulted with experts and industry representatives in the field of marine UV filter exposure to understand the limitations of current research and which areas need urgent attention.
They found that most research on UV filter compounds focuses on freshwater organisms and ecosystems, and that environmental conditions can either increase or decrease the response to toxic elements, making it difficult to determine the true risk of the compounds.
This research does not translate easily into the unique ecology of coral reefs, and therefore long-term environmental monitoring in tropical and subtropical climates would be required to understand the toxic effects here.
Yasmine Watkins, who led the work as part of a master’s degree in the Department of Environment and Geography, said: “We make four recommendations for priority areas of research in the future, based on our consultations with experts. We need more work in understanding UV filter toxicity. under different climatic conditions and long-term study of coral reef exposure and recovery.
“We also need to know the real exposure to these compounds and how long they have existed in the marine environment, to determine what the ‘safe’ limits are.”
Researchers aim to highlight these priority areas to better inform regulators and policy makers to improve the conservation and management of coral reefs, while ensuring that human health can continue to be protected by UV filter products.
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