In an attempt to protect the coral reefs that divers so admire they have dubbed them the underwater Serengeti, the Pacific nation of Palau will soon ban many types of sunscreen.
President Tommy Remengesau Jr. last week signed legislation that bans “reef-toxic” sunscreen from 2020. Banned sunscreens will be confiscated from tourists who carry them into the country, and merchants selling the banned products will be fined up to $1,000.
Remengesau said in a statement that the penalties find the right balance between “educating tourists and scaring them away.”
The law defines reef-toxic sunscreen as containing any one of 10 chemicals, including oxybenzone, and states that other chemicals may also be banned.
The legislation also requires tour operators to start providing customers with reusable cups, straws and food containers.
Remengesau said a big impetus for the ban was a 2017 report which found that sunscreen products were widespread in Palau’s famed Jellyfish Lake, which was closed for more than a year due to declining jellyfish numbers before being recently reopened.
The president noted legislative findings that “plastic waste, chemical pollution, resource overconsumption, and climate change all continue to threaten the health of our pristine paradise.”
Palau’s ban comes after Hawaii in July banned the sale of sunscreen containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate from 2021 in an attempt to protect its reefs. In Hawaii, however, tourists will still be able to bring the banned sunscreen with them into the state or buy it there if they have a doctor’s prescription.
Scientists have found that some chemicals in sunscreen can be toxic to coral reefs, which are a vital part of the ocean ecosystem as well as a popular draw for tourists. But some critics say there aren’t enough independent scientific studies on the issue while others worry that people will suffer from too much sun exposure if they stop using the products.
Some manufacturers, meanwhile, have already started selling “reef-friendly” sunscreen.
Palau, located east of the Philippines and north of Indonesia, is home to 21,000 people and has an economy that relies on tourism and fishing. It has a compact of free association with the U.S.