Editor’s note: Thank you to Ironman for being so responsive, and letting competitors know to use coral safe sunscreen! Also, thank you Eyes of the Reef network, Hawai’i Wildlife Fund, Surfrider Foundation – Kona, West Hawai’i Fisheries Council and the Kohala Center for their work on this issue.

Each year, thousands of athletes participate in Hawai’i’s Ironman competition. As the 2016 Ironman approaches, Turtle Island Restoration Network is working to draw attention to emerging research on the lethal effects of a common sunscreen ingredient, oxybenzone (benzophenone-3; BP-3), on our treasured coral reef ecosystems.

Last year, Hawai’i’s corals were devastated by a massive and unprecedented coral bleaching event, which resulted in the loss of 50 percent of corals. In response, numerous state and local agencies have been working tirelessly to promote the recovery our coral reef ecosystems. As the thousands of Ironman athletes, family, supporters, and staff visit Hawai’i Island in the coming weeks, we are working with Ironman organizers to support the efforts to promote the use of coral-safe sunscreens.


The toxic effects of oxybenzone on coral reefs is devastating. Below is a list of just some of the reasons why Ironman attendees should use coral safe sunscreen:

  • Oxybenzone, commonly used in many sunscreens, has been shown to increase the rate of coral bleaching. It also has been shown to cause deformities in coral larvae, making them unable to swim, settle, or form new colonies.
  • Sunscreen chemicals wash off of users when they enter the ocean, particularly if sunscreen is applied just before getting in.
  • The Ironman event falls during an important coral larval settlement period in West Hawai’i, following late summer spawning events.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has detected oxybenzone in more than 96 percent of the American population. Oxybenzone can cause allergic skin reactions, and may disrupt hormones.
  • Research continues on other potentially harmful chemicals including avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, octinoxate, methoxycinnamate, camphors, parabens, and nanoparticle form of certain minerals.
  • Scientists at the International Coral Reef Symposium (June 2016) and the IUCN World Conservation Congress (September 2016) agreed on the negative impacts of oxybenzone and other sunscreen chemicals on corals, and recommended an elimination of use in areas with coral reefs.
  • The Hawai’i Department of Land & Natural Resources (DLNR) is asking all ocean users to avoid sunscreens containing oxybenzone, as indicated by a press release on Sept. 2, 2016.

If you live in or visit an area with coral reefs, please choose a sunscreen that is coral-safe!