All posts by Lauren Coiro

Ask Lauren: How Do I Know Which Sunscreen is Ocean-Friendly?

Sunscreen is a sailing essential any time of year, but the upcoming summer rays mean it’s time to break out the good stuff. There’s nothing like relaxing on deck with some good music and lathering up with tropical scented potions to get that sun-kissed glow. But what happens once we shower off or go for a dip? Our goos and sprays quietly enter our waterways and air, about 14,000 tons per year according to the National Park Service. Many of these products can do serious harm to marine animals, as well as to our own health.

Coral Reefs Are In Trouble

Coral reefs are one of the most sought after sailing and tourist destinations in the world. Thanks in part to Hawaii’s gorgeous coral reefs, tourism accounts for about 20% of the state’s economy. In addition to damage from poorly placed anchors and clumsy snorkel fins, corals are struggling with a variety of environmental issues, including climate change, agricultural runoff, overfishing, disease, and storms. These stresses can cause corals to lose their symbiotic algae, called zooxanthellae, which provide the coral with their bright colors and nearly 90% of their energy. This “bleaching” process severely weakens the corals and is almost impossible to recover from.

coral reef bleaching
When corals become bleached, they rarely survive.

Are We Making It Worse?

Believe it or not, most of our favorite sunblock brands contain chemicals that can severely increase corals’ chances of bleaching, disrupt their DNA and reproduction, and hinder their growth. These chemicals also disrupt the endocrine and reproductive systems of other marine animals. It’s worth mentioning that these ingredients, while they do protect our skin from the sun, aren’t healthy for humans either.

The worst offenders are oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are the UV-blocking chemicals in many sunscreen products. Oxybenzone can also be found in various body products, including lipstick, makeup, moisturizer, lip balm, nail polish, hair spray, and more. It only takes a very small amount of oxybenzone to harm corals: one study showed a toxicity effect can occur from a concentration of only 62 parts per trillion. That equates to a single drop of water in six-and-a-half Olympic-sized swimming pools. In many popular reef sites for tourists and swimmers, concentrations of oxybenzone can be 10 to 12 times the toxicity level.

To protect its reefs, Hawaii passed a ban in 2018 to prohibit the sale of products with these harmful chemicals, including some go-to brands like Coppertone, Banana Boat, Neutrogena, and Hawaiian Tropic. The law won’t officially go into effect until 2021 and it’s only for Hawaii, so it’s up to us as mindful sailors and ocean lovers to spread the word and start shopping smartly today.

How To Practice Safe Sun While Protecting Our Oceans:

reef friendly sunscreen

  1. Read labels. Be on the lookout for oxybenzone, octinoxate, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, and avobenzone, to name a few. There are also dozens of other ingredients in our body and beauty products that are not ocean-friendly, like parabens, phthalates, fragrances, and microbeads. Here’s a list of harmful chemicals in many body products. And if you are overwhelmed by these lists (so am I!), keep reading.
  2. Try mineral sunscreen instead of chemical sunscreen. The active ingredient in mineral sunscreens is either non-nano zinc oxide or titanium oxide. These creams form more of a “physical barrier” from UV rays and are much safer for the ocean. They may take some getting used to, as these tend to be a bit thicker and can leave a white or bluish color on the skin. Some great mineral sunscreen brands include ThinkSport, Avasol, All Good, Raw Elements, Sea & Summit, Goddess Garden, Badger Balm, and more.My personal favorite brand for facial sunscreen is Avasol because it is tinted to match the skin and comes plastic-free!
  3. Buy a bigger bottle. Unfortunately, even ocean-friendly sunblock brands usually come in a plastic bottle. When you stock up on beach and boat supplies this year, go for bulk-sized bottles so you’re using less plastic.
  4. Avoid aerosol sprays at all costs. While convenient, aerosol sprays are extremely harmful to both our health and to the environment: they contain neurotoxic and carcinogenic chemicals, hydrocarbons, and volatile inorganic compounds (VOCs). The thin spray is more likely to get into the surrounding air and water than onto your skin, and because it’s so easy to apply, people often spray way more than they need.
  5. Plan for your swim. If you think you’re due for a dive off the stern, wait until after your swim to apply sunblock. In fact, if you are planning a day in or on the water, use as few sprays, lotions, and other chemicals on your body as possible. (You look absolutely beautiful without the hairspray and mascara, I promise!)
  6. Use other forms of protection. Sun protection is essential, but sunscreens are not the only way to protect yourself. Wear lightweight layers, hats, and sunglasses to supplement your sunblock, or set up a nice reading spot in the shade.
  7. Share your knowledge. No single person’s actions will save our oceans. It will take all of us coming together and sharing awareness to make meaningful change happen. Speak about these issues and guide your friends and communities toward solutions.

    Please do your part by sharing this article with your favorite ocean lover:

ocean plastic can

Can Overboard!

Scenario: You crack open a cold one after a long day of sailing. Your buddy Jim finishes his first beer (rather quickly) and tosses the can overboard. When prodded about the environment, he confidently responds, “It’s just metal- it will break down naturally.” A debate starts, and you want it to stop so you can enjoy the sunset and your beverage in peace. Does Jim have a point?

A Brief Beer History Lesson

Back in the 1930s when designers were tinkering with how to can beer, they kept encountering a problem: the beer reacted quickly with metal, causing an unpleasant “skunky” taste. The American Can Company reached out to a chemical manufacturer to produce a liner that would not disrupt the brew. The coating, called “Vinylite,” was trademarked with the name “Keglined” in 1934 and was a huge success. Vinylite is a polymer cousin of polyvinyl chloride, commonly known as PVC.

Day-ruiner alert: This means that every canned beverage you have ever purchased is lined with plastic.

To make matters worse, the inks used to label and decorate cans are toxic and leach into the water. Many cans also have a very thin plastic exterior lining. This throws a major wrench in Jim’s argument.

Rules are Rules

To cut the debate short, you can simply tell the “Jims” of the world that they are breaking maritime law: It is illegal under MARPOL regulations to throw any plastic in the ocean out of a boat, so beer cans are out. If you are racing, tossing your cans may jeopardize your chance of bringing home the trophy. The International Sailing Federation’s Racing Rules of Sailing states very plainly: “a competitor shall not intentionally put trash in the water.”

Reincarnate your Can

Even if aluminum cans were pure metal (which, again, they are not), there is a deeper environmental case to consider: why toss perfectly good metal into Davey Jones’ Locker when there is plenty more canned beer to be made?

Aluminum is one of the easiest materials out there to recycle as it requires a very small amount of energy to process. (The plastic liner is burned off and the toxic fumes are captured.) If we can make the most of what we have and prevent future mining, why wouldn’t we? Saving energy and resources is always a win for the ocean.

Does this mean that you should put a moratorium on your post-sail ritual? Not exactly. Just bring along a reusable bag to store your empties until you get to the blue bin. And don’t hesitate to politely inform Jim about what’s hiding in his tall boy.

earth day 2019

This Earth Day, Treat the Planet Like It’s Your Boat

I first learned about the art of sailing when I was nineteen years old. I had signed up for a semester abroad with a program that teaches students marine biology and oceanography courses, as well as sailing and coastal navigation skills. After a year of scraping together money and filling out forms, I spent my sophomore winter on an 88’ schooner in the Caribbean with a plan to sail to twenty islands.
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storm drain ocean pollution

First Flush

After learning about Soraya Simi and her work, I checked out her short film First Flush. In just one minute we follow the journey of raindrops hitting the Los Angeles pavement, to the accumulating floodwaters traveling across roadways and down drains, all leading down to the LA River. The drainage carries with it more than just rain: various plastic trash on the streets are carried and gather around the storm drains. The journey ends exactly how we’d expect: at the ocean.

Soraya’s final message to her audience: “If you’ve ever wondered where it all goes…”
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ocean heroes bootcamp

Young Sailors: Are You an “Ocean Hero”?

Young sailors, your sailing education is not just about learning to read charts and pull lines. Your generation faces a whole new set of challenges on par with the great explorers of ancient times. Unfathomably widespread plastic, fisheries collapse, water pollution… the list of problems facing the ocean continues to grow. The mistakes of the past are not your fault, but there is hope: you can be part of the solutions of the future!
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5 gyres plastic pollution scientists

Introducing 5 Gyres: Sailor Scientists Fighting Plastic Pollution

Sailors in every corner of the world are taking the ocean’s plastic problem into their own hands, or rather, into their own nets. Balloons, bags, bottles, ghost nets, and all kinds of plastic trash are being pulled out of the water by boaters everywhere, but what if we could do something more with all that trash?

This is where 5 Gyres comes in. Named after the five swirling masses of plastic “soup” in the world’s oceans, 5 Gyres is a science-to-solutions organization collecting data on the millions of tons of plastic out in the big blue and using the results to pass plastic bans and hold the producers accountable.

I got to catch up with their Advocacy and Education Director, Melissa Aguayo, to learn more about what 5 Gyres is up to and how sailors can get in on the action.

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algae and sustainability

Could Algae Save the World?

Traditionally the boating community associates algae with one word: nuisance. It covers hulls, jams propellers, slimes up fishing poles, and can even make the water unswimmable. Algae is a gigantically diverse group of marine organisms, ranging from tiny single-celled plankton, to kelp that stretches hundreds of feet toward the surface, to the wrapper of your favorite sushi roll.
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