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Sunscreen among contributing factors killing Phuket’s coral reefs

PHUKET: The impact of harmful contaminants in sunscreen as a contributing factor in the deaths of coral reefs around Phuket will be presented to Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and other high-ranking officials at a Cabinet meeting in Bangkok today (Jan 18).

By Tanyaluk Sakoot

Friday 18 January 2019, 08:30AM

Leading the presentation will be Tanu Nabnien, Director of the conservation group Andaman Organisation for Participatory Restoration of Natural Resource. Mr Tanu is also the Andaman region representative of a national committee to protect marine and coastal resources.

Joining him will be Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) regional chief Watcharin Na Thalang, responsible for all marine natural resources along the Andaman coast.

Mr Tanu includes the harmful elements found in artificial sun-protection creams among the fallout from human activities that are killing the reefs around Phuket.

“Sunscreen is not a major factor alone, but it is one element that is contributing to the damage being done to corals around Phuket, along with tourism activities such as ‘try dive’ tours, snorkelling and scuba diving, commercial fishing, wastewater, and others,” he told The Phuket News this week.

“Phuket’s coral reefs need more protection. Sunscreen is not a main variable directly causing damage to corals, but it will be good to start raising awareness about it at this meeting,” he added.

Dr Nalinee Thongtham, an expert at the Phuket Marine Biological Centre (PMBC), explained that while the parts per million of the harmful elements in sunscreens are not enough to directly cause corals to die, they do interfere with corals’ health to the point that the corals become much weaker in recovering from other effects, even coral bleaching from warmer water temperatures.

In contained environments, the effect can be much more pronounced.

In announcing the indefinite closure of the world-famous Maya Bay at Phi Phi Island in October last year, Chongkhlai Woraphongsathorn, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Natural Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), explained to the press that the hordes of tourists applied sunscreeen lotions before swimming in the bay without knowing that such chemicals eventually killed or seriously damaged the corals.

“Oxybenzone in sunscreen in particular is a concern in addressing the health of corals in Phuket,” Dr Nalinee told The Phuket News.

“Although we have not yet been able to clearly identify oxybenzone as a major factor in our official reports yet, laboratory tests by researchers have shown it to be harmful,” she added.

“Reducing the volume of sunscreens mixed into the water will not fix all the problems affecting corals, but it will help to prevent the corals from getting sick easier. It is one variable to avoid while trying to nurse coral reefs back to health,” she added.

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Dr Nalinee pointed out that coral reefs in Phuket province alone – not including the reefs throughout Phang Nga Bay that are technically in the neighbouring provinces of Phang Nga and Krabi – covered some 13,932 rai (about 22.3 square kilometres).

“This includes the reefs near Patong Beach, Kata Beach, Karon Beach, Nai Yang Beach, the Racha islands, and of course Koh Hei (“Coral Island”),” Dr Nalinee said.

“However, harmful activities have affected 80-90% of the corals around all these sites to what we call ‘medium’ to ‘serious’ damage level,” she added.

“Some reefs in Phuket are recovering well, but it would be better if human activities in these areas are well organised and better controlled,” she said.

Dr Nalinee explained that the DMCR openly supports the suggestions given by the marine conservation Green Fins project.

“This supports all people, tourists and tour operators, to realise and take correct action to preserve coral reefs,” she said.

“Green Fins call on people to use less sunscreen by taking simple actions, such as simply wearing long-sleeved clothing, which is the best protection from the sun,” she said.

“They also list all the contaminants to avoid when buying sunscreen,” she added.

In particular, Green Fins calls on people to avoid buying any sun lotions that include: Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3, BP-3); Octinoxate (Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate); Methylbenzylid Camphor (4MBC); and Butylparaben.

“Many sunscreen contain chemicals which cause the coral to bleach and die and harm juvenile fishes,” the project notes.

“If you are in the sun for extended periods of time, you have an option. Please choose natural and biodegradable sunscreen with non-nano Zinc Oxide/Titanium Dioxide, all-natural and organic ingredients,” the Green Fins website notes. (See



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Capt B | 26 January 2019 - 09:26:36

"Sunscreen among contributing factors killing Phuket’s coral reefs"
...and the GREENS are one of the contributing factors killing Phuket Tourists !!!
The Canadian Health Department has deemed Titanium Dioxide (as recommended by the GREENS) as being carcinogenic.  

Kurt | 19 January 2019 - 11:09:32

Asterix has a point! Why are the Government Officials working in Phuket Marine Office on Chalong Pier not supervise boat cleanings. Make sure it will be done environment friendly, and they should stop all these speedboat fuel loadings at Phuket beaches. Talking about sunscreens? Bringing it up to Cabinet levels?  Great for a good laugh seen all other more damaging things they don't touch.

BigA | 18 January 2019 - 17:34:30

...right,also customs should check every Chinese tourist to make sure none of this sunscreens been smuggled in to Thailand! Horst

Asterix | 18 January 2019 - 13:12:19

Sun-protection creams, soaps, shampoos during boat trips or during fishing for all professional fishing boats without forgetting all boat crews cleaning the boat hulls on the beaches at low tide (Chalong Pier in late afternoon) with bleach and chemical detergent products are not good at all for marine life and coral reefs.

phkt-2016 | 18 January 2019 - 10:40:30

Sunscreen- how about banning sunscreen on Phuket beaches. The coral distruction is mainly caused by poor environmental management- untreated waste water flowing into the sea on every beach - no protection from net fishing- tackling the real problems is of course more challenging than blaming sun screen

Kurt | 18 January 2019 - 09:54:19

Keep it simple. If thai officials know so exactly what brand sunscreens are harming the coral environment, than forbid the thai shops to sell them!  Same as Singapore decades ago did forbid chewing gum ( made out of oil) to be sold. Problem solved!
I not see the problem. This matter really has to go to Thai cabinet level?  Sure?  ( smile)

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