We already know Isla Contoy is a Natural Protected Area (ANP, for its acronym in Spanish). So as responsible tourists, we have to follow a few rules. The most important rule of all and one that you will hear in 99% of the tours that include snorkeling is: Do not wear sunscreen.
Yes, we know sunscreen is important for the care of our skin, but many don't know the damage that this type of cream cause to marine ecosystems. So, to work for the protection of the sea and ecological tourism in Isla Contoy, here we will tell you a little more about this important topic among sea lovers.
Why can't sunscreen (or suntan lotion) be used in Isla Contoy?
There are many reasons, but the main one is that it directly affects corals and reefs. The sunscreens have several ingredients, including a component of the UV filter called oxybenzone.
What is oxybenzone?
It is a chemical found in many creams and lotions whose function is to absorb ultraviolet rays, meaning, it protects the skin from the sun's rays. Although this chemical serves to take care of our skin (although it has been linked to other types of diseases), it is a very dangerous pollutant for water.
Oxybenzone contaminates not only the seas but also freshwater bodies such as rivers, cenotes, and lakes. This means that the health of populations supplied by groundwater is also at risk.
What does sunscreen do to coral?
The dangers faced by corals from sunscreen are:
- Coral bleaching
- DNA damage
- Abnormal growth
- Deformities of coral larvae
Corals have vibrant colors thanks to microscopic algae called zooxanthellae. When these algae die, the coral loses its colors and turns white. That is known as coral bleaching. The zooxanthellae are so delicate that even temperature changes cause them to detach from the coral. Another important cause of coral bleaching is water pollution.
DNA damage: Genotoxicity
Genotoxicity refers to the damage caused at the genetic and cellular levels. To be clear, it refers to all pollutants that alter corals in the long term.
Algal overgrowth on corals is considered an injury, as excess algae can lead to death by coral smothering.
Corals release eggs into the water to reproduce, which develop into larvae. Larvae are very sensitive to temperature changes, chemical signals, lunar cycles, and, of course, pollution. Only healthy larvae can regenerate damaged reefs.
How does sunscreen affect marine animals?
Sea urchins: Afecta su sistema inmune y crea deformidades.
Fish: Reduces their fertility and alters their reproduction cycles.
Snails: Produces deformities in their juvenile stage.
Dolphins: Absorb chemicals through their skin and transfer them to their offspring.
What happens if the coral bleaches?
Live coral reduces the force of tides and waves, reduces overfishing by providing many species with a home to spawn, and helps promote tourism activities.
Alternatives to sunscreen
Many responsible travelers are taking very simple steps to avoid using sunscreen, and here are some of them.
- Use of rashguard: What is rashguard? It is a sport shirt made of spandex, nylon, and polyester that helps prevent sunburn. It can be worn as a long-sleeved swimsuit. These garments were created in Australia for water sports such as surfing or kayaking. Due to their popularity and functionality, they have been introduced to other sports such as American soccer.
- Wear biodegradable sunscreen: In addition to looking for biodegradable labels, be sure to choose products with ingredients such as titanium oxide and zinc oxide. Your sunscreen is not biodegradable if it has any of the following ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, Octyl salicylate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate.
- You can wear your sunscreen but: Never wear your sunscreen before entering the water! Wear it after you get out of the ocean or body of water you are visiting. Also, be sure to rinse your body before entering any body of fresh or saltwater.
- Seek shade: You can stay in shady places when the sun's rays are most intense (between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm). Take advantage of the time to have a drink at a beach club or enjoy yourself with your friends in the shade of a palm tree.
- Wear protective clothing: Wear sunglasses, hats, caps, and beach outfits. It's time to put together your best beach outfit!
Sunscreen in Cancun
Ecotourism destinations such as Thailand and Hawaii have successfully banned the use of many brands of sunscreen that harm marine ecosystems. Unfortunately, in Cancun, no laws prohibit the use of sunscreen during activities in the sea, so much of the work of environmental education is the responsibility of tour operators, civil organizations, and visitors.
During our Isla Contoy Experience tour, our guides, as well as the park rangers, will not allow you to wear sunscreen or insect repellent. These measures are not only to protect the sea from chemical components, but also for the preservation of the natural flora and fauna of the island.
Remember that we can all do our bit to protect the corals and marine animals, so we invite you to be a responsible traveler and to be environmentally conscious to avoid using sunscreen before entering the water.