Earth Day 2022: A Sustainable and Biodiverse Future for Coral Reefs
By Emily Burns, Ph.D.
Earth Day is a reminder of just how important coral reefs are in sustaining a wide array of plant, fish and invertebrate species, as well as supporting the livelihood of more than half a billion people through a variety of means, such as fisheries and ecotourism. Tropical coral reefs are the most ecologically diverse ecosystems in the marine environment. Despite only covering approximately 1% of the oceans, these habitats are critical to sustaining about 25% of all marine species. Coral reefs also protect adjacent shorelines from storms and host dozens of species that are key sources of medicines to treat a variety of diseases, including cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
More than 75% of coral reefs are considered to be under serious threat. The most prevalent cause of coral bleaching – which leads to coral weakening and death – is a significant and persistent rise in water temperatures, which can be attributed to the climate crisis. The climate crisis is also increasing ocean acidification, which further threatens reef survival by reducing the growth of corals and other animals.
There are also a number of local threats to coral reefs, including overfishing, invasive species, pollution from untreated sewage, agricultural runoff, unsustainable coastal development and physical damage from tourists’ feet or boat anchors. Proper management of such threats can have a significant positive impact on coral health, potentially increasing resiliency to the broader global threat of climate change.
Coral reef decline is a serious environmental, economic and societal issue that beauty and personal care products member companies take very seriously. While the use of specific sunscreen active ingredients has also been implicated as a local threat to corals, available scientific evidence indicates these ingredients are unlikely to be a threat. As a result of our industry’s extensive investigation, projects and partnerships have been established to lead the way in developing more robust science needed to understand the relationship between sunscreens and coral health. While we don’t have all of the answers, more research into the impacts of sunscreen active ingredients on coral is needed to allow the scientific community to form a consensus based on reliable studies.
We believe protecting the planet is a responsibility, not a choice. PCPC and our member companies are dedicated to improving the well-being of people and the planet, united in our commitment to operate responsibly and to ensure all cosmetic and personal care product ingredients are sustainable and do not adversely impact the environment.
This Earth Day, I encourage you to explore EarthDay.org’s Conservation and Biodiversity Campaign for ideas and steps you can take to help protect our coral reefs.