Direct and indirect effects of sunscreen exposure for reef biota

Abstract

Coral reefs are ecologically and economically important, contributing to both fishing and ecotourism economies around the world. Tourism and recreational activities have increased in coastal areas and so has the use of sunscreen. Sunscreen reduces human exposure to harmful UV rays, but washes off during aquatic recreational activities, which may negatively affect reef biota. To evaluate how sunscreen affects coral reef ecosystems, we added sunscreen at concentrations similar to previous studies to growing environments containing flatworms (Convolutriloba macropyga) with symbiotic algae, photosynthetic diatoms (Nitzschia sp.), Aiptasia anemones, and pulse corals (Xenia sp.). Using behavioral observations and estimates of population and colony growth, we show nominal concentrations of sunscreen negatively affect all of the studied species. Furthermore, we show that mobile flatworms do not avoid water which contains sunscreen and flatworms exposed to sunscreen prefer darker conditions. Based on our results, beach goers should limit use of sunscreens when near coral reefs and consider alternative protective measures, such as the utilization of sun-protective clothing.

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Acknowledgments

Penny and Terry Szwed for travel assistance; Association of North Central Oklahoma Reefkeepers, Paul Whitby and Advanced Aquatics, Tulsa OK for reef organisms.

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Correspondence to Shaun M. McCoshum.

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Handling editor: Vasilis Valavanis

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McCoshum, S.M., Schlarb, A.M. & Baum, K.A. Direct and indirect effects of sunscreen exposure for reef biota. Hydrobiologia 776, 139–146 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10750-016-2746-2

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Keywords

  • Sunscreen
  • Ecotourism
  • Coral reef
  • Soft coral
  • Contamination
  • Flatworms
  • Anemone