Hawaii bans sale of certain sunscreens to protect coral reef; too little, too late.

The Hawaiian State Legislature has moved to ban the sale of certain sunscreens that contain Oxybenzone and Oxinoxate as they have been found to be harmful to reef ecology. The law is awaiting ratification by the state governor before coming into effect in 2021. Hawaii is the first American State to ban the chemicals. While the ban of these sunscreens is a small step in conserving reefs, without tackling the root cause of ocean warming and acidification caused by Climate Change, it is ultimately meaningless. This episode exposes the perfidy of the ruling class as they are unable to mitigate climate change and protect the worlds reefs. 

Concern over Oxybenzone was raised after the publishing of a 2015 study published in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. They stated, “Oxybenzone is an emerging contaminant of concern as it poses a hazard to coral reef conservation and threatens the resiliency of coral reefs to climate change.” (1) Oxybenzone is a genotoxicant affecting Coral’s ability to reproduce, it has also been found to slow down the healing process in regeneration (2) and can cause the coral to excrete a hard out layer and ‘entomb’ itself (3). This comes on the back of a 2008 study by the National Institute of Environmental Health Science demonstrating that, the presence of oxybenzone can forment viral infections in corals and thereby increase the frequency and severity of coral bleaching events (4). Coral reef in popular tourist areas with low water renewal which allows the concentration of harmful chemicals are worst hit. The chemicals have also been found to adversely affect other marine life in similar ways.

The ban of the sale of certain types of sunscreen in Hawaii is a small step forward, though these contaminants are only one of many threats to coral reefs the world over. Jorg Wiedenmann, head of the Coral Reef Laboratory at the University of Southampton stated that “Banning sunscreen will not solve other problems: for example, temperature anomalies, overfishing, coral predators and the big issue of coastal runoffs that pollute and destroy reefs.”(5)

The admirable actions of the  biologists who have discovered this issue and have pushed it forward are counter posed with the cretinous state actors who are completely impotent in introducing the vast change required to ultimately improve the health of Hawaii’s coral reefs, and those the world over. The two aforementioned studies were published in 2008 and 2015 respectively, yet the legislation to ban these harmful chemicals wont come into place until 2021. The delay is in order to allow sunscreen manufacturers to develop new environmentally friendly products. In other words, the profit interests of a tiny minority take precedence over the protection of the worlds natural riches for future generations.

Hostile to any reform which could affect its profit margins sunscreen manufacturer’s association have employed lobbyists to defend their interests. Despite the fact there are alternative sunscreen products without these harmful chemicals in the UV blockers, they have been warning of a looming public health crisis if the sale of sunscreens are banned through a rise in skin cancer! (6,7) 

Banning the presence of sunscreens that contain harmful chemicals to coral reefs is a small part of the puzzle in saving the world’s reefs, but the overwhelming focus should be in mitigating anthropogenic climate change as much as possible. The world is set for a 2 degree rise in temperatures, with a worst case scenario in a 5 degree rise which would be catastrophic for the world’s reefs. The difficulty and opposition to this small reform is an indication of the impotence of the ruling classes in averting the degradation and in worst case scenario, the possible complete loss of Coral reefs through mass extinction.

Though the proposed laws in Hawaii have produced a great deal of excitement in the bourgeoise and state press, we are more subdued. Our perspective can be summed up through this succinct metaphor from Rosa Luxemburg, on the prospect for the reform of capitalism she said:

“No medicinal herbs can grow in the dirt of capitalist society which can help cure capitalist anarchy.” (8)


1. Environmental contamination and toxicology: Toxicopathological Effects of the Sunscreen UV Filter, Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3), on Coral Planulae and Cultured Primary Cells and Its Environmental Contamination in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands

2. Chemistry world: Hawaii set for first ever ban on two sunscreen ingredients. 

3. Live Science: Hawaii is banning sunscreens to protect Corals. But what about your skin?

4. National Institute of Environmental Health Science: Sunscreen cause coral bleaching by promoting viral infections

5. Nature: Hawaii seeks to ban unfriendly sunscreen  https://www.nature.com/news/hawaii-seeks-to-ban-reef-unfriendly-sunscreen-

6. Consumer Healthcare Products Association: Statement from the Consumer Healthcare Products Association regarding Hawaii Suncreen

7. Personal care council: Statement by Alexandra Kowcz, Chief Scientist Personal Care Products Council on the Sunscreen Ban in Hawaii https://www.personalcarecouncil.org/newsroom/On-the-Sunscreen-Ban-in-Hawaii%20

8. Rosa Luxemburg: Speech to the Stuttgart Congress, 1898


Owen Hsieh is an independent Marxist living between Western Australia and Taiwan. An avid bibliophile and book collector with a special interest in Eastern European literature and history, currently focused on the Russian Revolution and Stalinism.

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