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Everything is bad for you. Also, everything may bad for coral reefs.

One new likely harmful thing: sunscreen.

In a study led by the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Virginia, the main ingredient in sunscreen, Benzophenone-3, was been found to do major damage to baby corals.

"Whether in darkness or light, oxybenzone transformed planulae (coral larva) from a motile (mobilized) state to a deformed, sessile condition," the study says.

There's nothing specifically about the physiology of coral that makes them more susceptible to damage from BP-3 than other marine life; the authors chose to study them because coral populations are already on the decline, and wanted to know whether agents like BP-3 may be making things worse. They ended up looking specifically at coral in Hawaii and the Virgin islands, where coral "have exhibited precipitous declines" in recent decades.

"Regional weather and climate events often are responsible for acute events of mass-mortality of coral reefs," they write. "However, the long-term causative processes of sustained demise often are locality."


This damage occurs because because BP-3 is a known "mutagen" that increases the rate of damage to DNA, especially when exposed to sunlight. Here is the main, gnarly image from the study showing BP-3's effect on baby coral.

Andrews et. al.

BP-3 is also probably not good for humans either. The authors note that topical application of the agent to the skin has been shown to be absorbed and transferred to breast milk, creating risk if a woman is breastfeeding. It also increases the risk of of endometriosis in women. There are BP-3-free sunscreens out there; here's a good list of 'em.


The¬†authors say that¬†BP-3 is now categorized as an ‚Äė'emerging environmental contaminant of concern.'"¬†Between 6,000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion, many of which contain between 1 and 10% BP-3, are estimated to be released into coral reef areas each year, they say, putting at least 10% of the global reefs at risk of exposure, and approximately 40% of coral reefs located along coastal areas at risk of exposure.

Bad news all around.

Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.