Think twice before jumping in the water

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

As you venture down to the beach to top up your tan or go for a snorkel, it’s almost instinctive to slather sunscreen on and spray yourself with DEET. It’s always important to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays and the pesky no-seeums! It’s fine if you don’t venture into the water, but if you go for a cooling dip or a snorkel, you’re introducing a variety of poisons and toxins into the sea and may be contributing to the death of Roatan’s reefs.

A recent study commissioned by the European Commission estimates that up to 6,000 metric tons of sunscreen washes off swimmers annually in oceans worldwide. Sunscreens are comprised of around 20 compounds which act as UV filters and preservatives. The study found that four of these compounds can awaken dormant viruses in the symbiotic algae, zooxanthellae, which live inside corals. The algae are vital in the coral’s survival and without them the coral bleaches, turning white and then dying. The chemicals found in sunscreen cause the viruses to replicate until their algal host explodes, spilling viruses into the surrounding seawater, where they can infect neighboring coral communities. It was found that just a 20-minute dip could wash off about a quarter of the chemicals in the lotion, resulting in the chemicals ending on the reef. The study concluded that up to 10% of the world’s reefs are at risk from sunscreen-induced coral bleaching, a gloomy outlook.

While there are so many anthropologic threats to Roatan’s coral reefs, ranging from sedimentation, sewage, pollution and development, you can at least do your part and choose to use eco-friendly sunscreens. Also avoid using DEET if you intend to go immediately into the sea as this is toxic to plants and animals alike. The Marine Park Green Store stocks eco-friendly sunscreen and repellent, so do your part to prevent further bleaching!


Plastic Soup

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Although Honduran law states that all plastic brought to Roatan must be removed from the island, Roatan’s coast is awash with a toxic “plastic soup.” Plastic bags are used for an average of just 20 minutes before being dumped, and can take centuries to rot. Millions spread like urban tumbleweed through towns before ending up in the sea. Plastic waste in the oceans kills around 100,000 whales, dolphins, seals, turtles and other large animals each year. An estimated one million seabirds also die from strangulation, choking or starvation after eating seaborne plastic. Once an afflicted animal’s body has rotted, the bag is released back into the sea, to kill again and again.

The sheer volume of plastic in Roatan’s waters is appalling. It is an utter disgrace. People have often fought over fishing rights, claiming “ownership” over popular fishing grounds, but when it comes to protecting marine wildlife from plastic pollution, people’s sense of ownership and responsibility mysteriously fades. Isn’t it our responsibility to prevent these animals from becoming the victims of our careless, plastic bag culture? After all, there are perfectly adequate substitutes.

Pilot studies in the UK have successfully demonstrated that society CAN flourish without plastic bags. Major British supermarket chains have launched a “bags for life” policy. These are replaced free of charge by the store when they wear out and recycled. And it’s not just developed nations: In India people can now be jailed for seven years just for carrying a plastic bag.

Where major corporations have taken the initiative, it has encouraged millions of people to change their behavior. This initiative could easily be applied here too. It is absolutely vital that we urge all stores to act responsibly, possibly introducing a small charge for plastic bags. However, we as consumers must also change our attitude – bring our own bag! It is time to break the carrier bag habit. It’s not difficult, it’s not painful, but it IS responsible.