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Protecting Hawaii's Coral Reefs

Hawaii’s ban on sunscreens containing reef-damaging chemicals to take effect in 2021


World Reef Day is a call to action for consumers, businesses and organizations to reflect on the delicate ecosystem of our ocean’s coral reefs that are dying around the world. 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).

Recognized by the National Day Calendar Association, World Reef Day was inspired by new legislation set to go into effect in Hawaii on January 1, 2021, banning the use of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, two chemicals that have been shown to be damaging to 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.

Hanauma Bay

Be responsible while enjoying the ocean

Before you play in the ocean, take time to learn about the area. Read signs, and make yourself aware of any regulations — for example, know that feeding fish is illegal in some places and it’s a good idea not to do it anywhere in the world (people food is bad for fish and also disrupts regular cycles on the reef). Ask your concierge or water-sports activity companies what is and isn’t responsible behavior. And take a careful look at your sunscreen and make sure it is reef-safe, or even trade it in for a hat and a sunshirt or rashguard—a shirt you will see on surfers that can be wet or dry, is light, and usually has long sleeves.

Fish & coral

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.


Coral reefs are already stressed by the smothering of sedimentation from runoff, acidification (which reduces the coral’s ability to build that calcium cup, and then the reef at all), and global climate change—which overly warms the waters they live in, creating a whole cascade of problems. Changing your sunscreen use won’t solve all the problems, but this is one choice we each can make.


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