Environmentally friendly sunscreen and Mexico’s Riviera Maya
Sunscreen is an essential element to summer outdoor activities and is especially important when living in a place where summer exists year round. Tropical areas like the Riviera Maya experience an average daily temperature of 27C (80F) and approximately 240 days of sunshine per year.
With that in mind, sunscreen truly is an important part of living in the region. Many products, however, contain additives and chemicals that can prove harmful not only to you, but also to the environment. In particular, marine environments.
When sunscreen washes off into lakes, rivers, cenotes, oceans and seas, it can leave behind chemical residues that can be harmful to the marine life living in these bodies of water. According to a 2008 study by Environmental Health Perspectives, coral reefs are particularly sensitive to the chemicals found in human sunscreen products.
Studies find that every year, between 4,000 and 6,000 tons of sunscreen washes off tourists during their vacations. These sunscreens contain oils and chemicals that are harmful to the marine ecosystem. It is for this reason that the use of biodegradable sunblock in Mexico is often mandatory before entering local waters, including snorkeling tours and scuba diving excursions.
Popular places such as Xel-Ha, Garrafon Park, Xcaret and Chankanaab Park as well as the protected marine life park in Cozumel, make the use of biodegradable sunscreen mandatory. Non-biodegradable sun products are generally confiscated upon entry to prevent people using non-ecofriendly sunscreens in the local water systems.
So, what exactly is biodegradable sunblock and how is it different from regular sunscreens? Biodegradable sunblocks are environmentally friendly sunscreen products that lack the harmful chemicals and additives that studies have found, contribute to the destruction of the coral reefs. The difference is eco-sunscreens break down naturally and minimize damage to the environment.
Non-eco sunscreens damage the environment by washing off in the water and eventually settling on coral reefs and other marine life. It’s not something many people think about, but studies have found that mass quantities of sunscreen in the sea is similar to an oil slick. Over time, reefs become suffocated and bleached.
One of the most common and harmful ingredients found in regular sunblock is oxybenzone, one of he many harmful ingredients that promotes viral infections in the coral system. Scientists have found that nearly 25 percent of the world’s coral reefs are in imminent danger of collapse due to human factors, while another 25 percent are in longer-term danger.
Mexico’s ecosystem and marine life are one of the many reasons millions of people visit each year. They arrive to enjoy the beaches, rent yachts, deep sea fish, participate in local water activities, swim in cenotes, snorkel and even live in various parts of the Riviera Maya to earn scuba and cave diving certificates – all activities that are water-based and quite likely involve sunscreen.