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Mediterranean Sea - Sunscreen That Damages Reefs May Also Threaten Seagrass, Study Finds

Reef-safe sunscreen may protect more than coral. According to new research, many of the sunscreen chemicals linked to coral bleaching are also accumulating in Mediterranean seagrass.

Reef-safe sunscreen may protect more than coral. According to new research, many of the sunscreen chemicals linked to coral bleaching are also accumulating in Mediterranean seagrass.

Scientists have discovered chemicals including oxybenzone and benzylidene camphor in the stems of Posidonia oceanica, a Mediterranean seagrass species found off the coast of Mallorca—a popular tourist destination.

According to the researchers, accumulation of the harmful chemicals could disrupt photosynthesis and productivity of the seagrass, which play important roles in their environment.

Seagrass toxicity

“This marine enclave is impacted by port activities, water discharge and tourism,” said Dr Silvia Díaz Cruz, co-author of the study published in Marine Pollution Bulletin. “Since the Mediterranean Sea is shallow, small and very enclosed, concentrations of UV-absorbing chemicals can reach high [levels].”

Meadows formed by the Posidonia oceanica are crucial to the health of the complex regional ecosystem, home to a number of marine animals. The seagrass also stores carbon—a critical function in the fight against climate change. Likewise, as erosion impacts coastal regions, the seagrass meadows help to protect the areas from erosion.

“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 Professor Nona Agawin.

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