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A turtle swims past coral in the sea off Thailand’s Andaman coast on November 24, 2021. Thailand is one of several countries that have banned ingredients in sunscreen that are toxic to coral reefs. Photo: AFP

LettersWorld’s coral reefs face dire threat from toxic sunscreen chemicals

  • Readers discuss the damaging effects sunscreen can have on the environment, Tom Daley’s views on the British Empire, and the dividing line between fact and opinion
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Stress is harming the planet. When corals get stressed, they become more vulnerable to the toxic effects of oxybenzone, a chemical widely used in sunscreen. While it is only recently that we finally know how this happens, Friend of the Sea – the international certification programme from the World Sustainability Organization – has long been certifying sustainable alternatives to UV creams.

Although they can look more like plants or rocks, corals are actually animals. They are invertebrates from the same group as jellyfish and sea anemones, and their stunning colours come from algae living and feeding on them. These tiny polyps build huge colonies acting like one organism – the coral reef.

Coral reefs represent one of the most important ecosystems in our oceans. Not only do they support 25 per cent of marine species but, as a valuable source of nutrients, they are essential to entire food chains. They also absorb harmful pollutants and act as a buffer, protecting seashores and coastal communities. It is estimated that reefs provide food, medication and jobs at a value between US$30 billion and US$170 billion per year.

Sunscreens work by absorbing UV light and converting it into heat. Yet, they can lose their effectiveness after just 40 minutes. Chemicals such as oxybenzone can then accumulate on corals. Low concentrations of oxybenzone can kill 50 per cent of coral larvae in less than 24 hours.

Although awareness of the impact oxybenzone can have on coral reefs has long been on the rise, it was only in May that researchers from Stanford University found that corals absorb oxybenzone from sunscreen and convert it into phototoxins. These molecules then become harmful when exposed to sunlight.


Massive coral reef discovered off Tahiti appears to be untouched by climate change

Massive coral reef discovered off Tahiti appears to be untouched by climate change

Friend of the Sea has launched a project to ensure sustainable UV creams. Environmentally friendly alternatives to the most found sunscreen products require, at a minimum, that they do not contain the worst toxic offenders, oxybenzone and octinoxate. They should also avoid sprays as a portion eventually lands on the sand and can either affect animals nesting and living there or end up in the water as the high tide comes.

The problem is real as an estimated 14,000 tons of sunscreen are believed to wash into the oceans each year. Hawaii, the US Virgin Islands, Aruba, Palau and Thailand have all banned potentially dangerous sunscreen chemicals. Which country will be next?

Costanza Danovi, International Media Outreach Adviser, World Sustainability Organization

Daley’s criticism of Britain is off-base

Tom Daley might be a good diver and a decent knitter. However, he is out of his depth in his understanding of the legacy of the British Empire and its role with the LGBT community.

As a gay man living in Hong Kong with my Chinese partner of 18 years, I have written of the prejudices our community faces, both here and overseas. Daley projects a very middle-class view of homophobia, blaming an empire that no longer exists and feeling ashamed to be British, despite the United Kingdom’s Sexual Offences Act of 1967 legalising gay sex in England and Wales.

Feelings of angst do nothing to advance the rightful acceptance of equality for all minorities. It is a battle that rages within homes divided by religious opinion in every suburban street of the country today, in addition to the intolerance advocated by some governments around the world. In Hong Kong, our former chief executive Carrie Lam Yuet-ngor’s Catholic devotion is at odds with a population far more at ease with its acceptance of same-sex unions.

Daley meant well, but he has set back the agenda of acceptance and will create division. Blaming the empire should be left to Star Wars fans, and the LGBT community needs more than a Luke Skywalker to continue our fight for acceptance and equality for ourselves and all others who suffer abuse at the hands of ignorance.

Mark Peaker, The Peak

That Taiwan is part of China is undisputed fact

In almost all your news coverage about Taiwan, there is invariably the sentence “Beijing considers Taiwan to be a breakaway province of China” or a similar phrase to that effect. Why is it necessary to always predicate this statement with “Beijing considers”, when it is an undisputed fact that Taiwan is a province of China? Is this what journalistic objectivity demands?

Raymond Young, Mid-Levels