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Chemicals in Sunscreen Damaging Mediterranean Sea Ecosystems

sunscrean mediterranean sea seagrass chemicals
Posidonia Oceanica, or Mediterranean seagrass, of Naxos, Greece. Credit: Mark Burgess/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY SA 3.0

A recent study has found that chemicals in sunscreens may be damaging vital seagrass ecosystems in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Mediterranean seagrass Posidonia oceania has been particularly impacted by the chemicals, the study, which was published in the “Marine Pollution Bulletin,” claims.

UV filters and other chemicals found in sunscreen lotions, such as oxybenzone, avobenzone 4-methyl, and methyl parabens, have also been discovered in the stems of the seagrass, which is commonly seen near Mallorca, Spain and is native to the Mediterranean Sea.

Chemicals from sunscreen found in seagrasses in Mediterranean Sea

As the samples from the plants were taken near Mallorca, a major tourist destination, scientists believe that the UV filters found in the plant likely come from the sunscreen used by swimmers.

“Since the Mediterranean Sea is shallow, small and very enclosed, concentrations of UV-absorbing chemicals can reach high [levels],” Dr Silvia Díaz Cruz, co-author of the study, said to The Guardian.

The seagrass is vital to the health of many ecosystems in the Mediterranean. Many fish and small sea creatures make their home in the plants, and seagrass roots are essential to holding sand in place and preventing erosion.

Scientists do not yet know if the chemicals negatively impact the plants, but studies of marine life and coral reefs have shown that sunscreens can have disastrous effects on fish and marine mammals.

For this reason, toxic chemicals found in sunscreens are banned in areas with rich marine life, such as Florida and Hawaii, with “reef safe” sunscreen alternatives offered instead.

Sunscreen chemicals may need to be regulated

While such sunscreen alternatives are available in many Mediterranean countries, there are no restrictions in place regarding the use of chemicals that are harmful for marine life in the region.

“If we find that sunscreens affect the photosynthesis and productivity of seagrasses beyond accumulation, we will have a problem since these seagrasses play important ecological roles in the Mediterranean coasts,” said co-author Nona Agawin stated to The Guardian.

“If we find which sunscreen components are harmful for seagrasses, then we should better regulate and provide alternatives to protect the beach-goers and also the seagrasses,” she continued.

The Mediterranean Sea is one of the most storied and lovely bodies of water anywhere in the world — and it is also one of the saltiest.

Almost completely enclosed by land, the “wine-dark sea” of Homer has played a central role in the history of Western civilization.

Geological evidence tells us that approximately 5.9 million years ago, the Mediterranean was cut off from the Atlantic and was partly or completely desiccated over a period of some 600,000 years during what is called the “Messinian salinity crisis” — before being refilled by the Zanclean flood about 5.3 million years ago.

Travelers who have never been to the Mediterranean may not realize how very different its waters are from the great oceans of the world. As anyone who has been there can attest, there is a great degree of buoyancy to its waters, since its density is greater than most ocean waters due to its high salt content.

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