Protecting Hawaii's coral reefs

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Protecting Hawaii's coral reefs

Do your part to support coral reef conservation with these easy steps.


Coral reefs are living animals that grow and reproduce, creating habitats for thousands of marine species and protecting shorelines from erosion. In recent years, there has been a major decline of our world’s reefs — 40 percent in Hawaii and the Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, 85 percent in the Caribbean and 99 percent in the Florida Keys.

Inspired by Hawaii’s efforts to ban coral-harming sunscreens, World Reef Day (June 1) is a call to action for consumers, businesses and organizations to reflect on the delicate ecosystem of our ocean’s coral reefs. The day aims to bring awareness on how coral reefs are hurt by human activity and highlight change is possible through simple, everyday choices and spreading the message. Here’s what you can do to help.

Hawaii-based Little Hands Organic Sunscreen uses reef-safe ingredients like non-nano zinc oxide, coconut oil and shea butter, plus the packaging is plastic free.

1. Only use reef-safe sunscreen

As of 2021, sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, two chemicals that have been shown to be damaging to coral reefs, are banned in Hawaii. Be sure to check the ingredients of your sunscreen bottle before packing It, or swap it for a hat and a sunshirt or rashguard. Rashguards are a popular choice amongst that surfers, as theyare lightweight, typically long-sleeved and can worn wet or dry.

Better yet, support local businesses and pick up reef-safe sunscreen while you’re here. Native Hawaiian-owned AO Organics of Hawaii Island offers sunscreen in tins, sticks and even liquid form. Kona Skin Care also produces a sunscreen mist that’s easy to apply. Coming from Maui, Mama KULEANA boasts eco-friendly ‘bio jars,’ while Raw Love Shop makes sunscreen with scuba divers in mind. On Oahu, Little Hands produces a variety of sunscreens in three skin tones, plus vegan options.

Hanauma Bay

The Hawaiian Islands are surrounded by nearly half a million acres of living coral reefs.

2. Be responsible while enjoying the ocean

Before you play in the ocean, take time to learn about the area. Make yourself aware of any regulations — for example, know that feeding fish is illegal in some places. (People food is especially bad for fish and disrupts regular cycles on the reef.) Ask your concierge or water-sports activity companies what is and isn’t responsible behavior.

Always read the signs at the beach, which can provide warnings on strong currents, high tides and marine life. Scan the water to take note of the coral reef (and waves) so you can avoid stepping on reef. Of course, do not remove pieces from reef and when in doubt, don’t go out. Check out this article for more ocean safety tips.

Fish & coral

Though coral reefs occupy just one percent of the ocean floor, they are home to more than 25 percent of all marine life.

3. Support local conservation efforts

Coral reefs are stressed by multiple issues — the smothering of sedimentation from runoff, acidification that reduces the coral’s ability to build its calcium cup, and global climate change warming the waters. Changing your sunscreen won’t solve all the problems, but it is one choice we each can make.

Thankfully, several nonprofits are dedicated to the full spectrum of preserving Hawaii’s coral reefs. Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) works closely with local communities to support citizen science programs on water quality, reef-friendly landscape design and natural filtration processes. The Surfrider Foundation - Hawaii Region advocates for local legislation that protects our oceans and shorelines. Both organizations are Hawaiian Airlines partners that receive HawaiianMiles donations — by directing your miles to them, you support their ability to reach other stations and share their knowledge.


Hawaii bans sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, two chemicals that can bleach coral reefs.

4. Helpful hints

  • Stay out of the sun at peak times (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
  • Use sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium oxide and apply only to your neck, face, feet and back of hands. Cover up the rest of yourself with a hat and long-sleeved rashguard or other beachwear.
  • In addition to avoiding oxybenzone and octinoxate, watch out for homosalate, octocrylene, and avobenzone — there is concern that these are also bad for people and ocean animals.
  • If the list of chemicals is long and hard to pronounce — avoid it!
  • Aerosol spray sunscreens are harmful if breathed in, end up on everything and everyone else, and one way or another enter the ocean.
  • Even if you don’t get in the ocean with your sunscreen on, it gets there via the shower, as all drains flow into the sea.


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