Corals Killed by Sunscreen Chemical Benzophenone-2m

Potential effects of Roundup weed killer not known on corals, but Benzophenone-2m found in sunscreen kills corals.

Written by
John Virata

Two separate studies have shown that a common herbicide sold by Monsanto and a chemical that is commonly found in sunscreens can have potential negative impacts on coral reefs, and in the case of the chemical in sunscreen, the study has shown to kill juvenile corals quickly.

Benzophenone-2m, a common ingredient in sunscreen kills juvenile corals, according to research conducted by The Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. In their paper, published in the December 2013 issue of Ecotoxicology, the researchers note that the chemical benzophenone-2m or BP-2, commonly found in sunscreen, soaps, cosmetics, and body fragrances, is highly toxic to corals, and that very low concentrations of the chemical kills juvenile corals quickly.

The researchers also found that exposure to the chemical causes corals to bleach and can possibly cause mutations to corals by altering or damaging their DNA. According to C.A. Downs, lead author of the study, BP-2 as a pollutant of corals and coral reefs has been ignored.

“In the case of BP-2 pollution, there are a range of options that can be considered for reducing its impact to reefs – from working with manufacturers and innovating more environmentally sustainable products to educating consumers regarding product selection and product disposal,” he said. 

The second study looks at the persistence of Glyphosate, the primary chemical in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer product, in seawater. In the study, researchers noted that the persistence of the chemical in seawater has not been reported. Their study shows that, among other notable issues, glyphosate degraded more rapidly under low low light and very slowly in the dark. Its half life in simulation flask tests ranged from 47 to 315 days, and the chemical would prpbably experience very little degradation during what the scientists called flood plumes, in the tropics. These plumes, the result of urban runoff and confirmed by satellite imagery, can migrate as much as 50 kilometers off shore and often contain sediments, nutrients, and pesticides.

The researchers looked at the incidence of glyphosate in waters of the Great Barrier Reef and noted that Australia applies some 15,000 tons of Roundup weed killer every year in an effort to control agricultural, urban, and roadside weeds. No study looked at the persistence of the herbicide in sea water until now, and more studies will need to be conducted to determine if the weed killer causes adverse effects to corals and coral reef ecosystems.



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Fish · Lifestyle