Sunscreen Pollution

Hanauma Bay is Hawaii’s oldest Marine Life Conservation District and an iconic symbol of Hawaiʻi around the world visited by 3000 – 6000+ people a day before the COVID -19 pandemic. Citizen science is critical to the successful advocacy of stakeholders in dramatically reducing overtourism at the bay and offering strategies to mitigate its impacts.

In 2017, Friends of Hanauma Bay partnered with the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory (HEL) to measure the sunscreen pollution at Hanauma Bay for the first time in Hanaumaʻs history. HEL is a scientific nonprofit that promotes conservation and restoration of endangered ecosystems like coral reefs through research, education, and advocacy.

Hawaii State Senator Will Espero, Hawaii State Representatuve Gene Ward, and HEL Executive Director Dr. Craig Downs taking the first water sample for the 2017 Hanauma Bay sunscreen pollution study

Some members of the water sampling team: Wilkie McClaren, Lisa Bishop, Theresa van Greunen, Craig Downs, Will Espero, Gene Ward

This landmark study was instrumental in Hawaii’s  passage of the world’s first prohibition on sale and  distribution of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate (Act 104, Session Laws of Hawai’i  2018). Following Hawaii’s lead, Palau, Bonaire,  Aruba, the US Virgin Islands, the Marshall  Islands, Taiwan, and Key West, Florida enacted  similar legislation in 2018 and 2019.  

Hawaii’s leadership in banning the sale of reef toxic chemical sunscreens was the catalyst for the  world’s largest consumer-driven reformulation of  personal care products in history.  

All-volunteer Friends of Hanauma Bay is proud to  have contributed to the passage of Hawaii’s 2018  Act 104, and to be a part of the extraordinary  grass roots advocacy that sparked an international  movement that has adopted terms like “the  Hawai’i sunscreen protocol” acknowledging our  State’s leadership on the issue.

Lisa Bishop and Craig Downs

“Friends of Hanauma Bay has been an invaluable resource, doing much of the work that those who have legal jurisdiction over the area haven’t.” Hawaiʻi State Senator Chris Lee (2020)

At our request, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and two other internationally renowned scientific organizations provided hazard assessments of the toxic effects of sunscreen pollution we measured at Hanauma Bay in 2017 to corals and other marine organisms.

These hazard assessments laid the foundation for  U.S. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s 2018  request for the Environmental Protection Agency  (EPA) to conduct an ecological risk assessment of  the sunscreen pollution at Hanauma Bay, and to  develop a sunscreen pollution mitigation plan for  the Bay. The urgent need for an ecological risk  assessment of sunscreen pollution was affirmed by  the National Academies of Science (NAS) in April  2022. Click here to read.

Note that Hanauma Bay is pictured on the cover  of the findings of the NAS consensus study! 

U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono and U.S.  Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard sponsored “The Oxybenzone and Octinoxate Impact Study Act of  2019”, requiring that the EPA study the impacts of  oxybenzone and octinoxate on human health and  the environment.

Further, U.S. Congressman Ed Case co-sponsored  H.R. 1834 “The Defending Our National Marine  Sanctuaries from Damaging Chemicals Act of  2019” directing the Secretary of Commerce to  issue regulations prohibiting the use of sunscreen  containing oxybenzone or octinoxate in a National  Marine Sanctuary in which coral is present.  Since Hanauma Bay lies within the Hawaiian  Islands Humpback Whale National Marine  Sanctuary, this bill will directly benefit Hanauma  Bay. Here is Congressman Case entering Friends  of Hanauma Bay advocacy supporting this bill  into the Congressional Record in January 2020. Click here to watch.

A subsequent study published in Chemosphere in  2021 demonstrates that oxybenzone poses a  serious threat to Hanauma’s coral reef ecosystem  from swimmers, that beach showers may also  contribute to the bay’s contamination, and  recommended further studies including whether  the sunscreen load at Hanauma during intensive  periods of tourism poses a threat to public health. Click here to read.

In 2022, a study published in the Journal of  Hazardous Materials demonstrates the threat of  beach showers as sources of contamination for  sunscreen pollution in marine protected areas and  areas of intensive beach tourism in Hawaii. Click here to read.

Hawaii News Now – Report of Water Sampling at Hanauma Bay
Hawaii News Now report of water sampling at Hanauma  Bay by Dr. Craig Downs.  Sampling is to determine if there is contamination in Hanauma Bay from Oxybenzone or other toxins.

CBS News Report
CBS News video reporting on Hawaii’s efforts to ban Oxybenzone from all Hawaii beaches

Documentary By The RedfordCenter
Documentary video by The RedfordCenter and supported by Friends of Hanauma Bay entitled Reefs At Risk: What’s In Your Sunscreen

News Article From The New York Times
Article from the New York Times entitled: Is Your Sunscreen Poisoning the Ocean

Friends of Hanauma Bay encourage all visitors to the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve to check the ingredients of their sunscreen products and to not use products containing oxybenzone.   When choosing a sunscreen, look for the following active ingredients: zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which are safe mineral sunscreens. See link below for listing of recommended sunscreen products.

Hawaii DLNR and FOHB Recommended Reef-Safe Sunscreen Products
Listing of non-Oxybenzone sunscreen products recommended by both Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and Friends of Hanauma Bay (FOHB).

Oxybenzone-Free Worldwide Facebook Page
A page launched on Facebook to provide information on the threat of Oxybenzone to the world’s oceans and seas.