Palau estimates that some 23 litres of sunscreen is dispersed into its seas every day by water-users, including scuba divers. Under legislation that forms part of its new Responsible Tourism Education Act, products containing oxybenzone, octinoxate and eight other chemicals will be banned.
Anyone caught in contravention will face fines of up to US $1000 and confiscation of the product – including visitors bringing the products into the country.
“The power to confiscate sunscreens should be enough to deter their non-commercial use, and these provisions walk a smart balance between educating tourists and scaring them away,” declared Palau's President Tommy Remengesau.
Exposure to the listed chemicals, which work by absorbing ultra-violet light, has been found to make corals more susceptible to bleaching at relatively low temperatures.
They can also be toxic to fish and other marine organisms. When bleaching does occur, corals have been found to recover more slowly in tourist-populated areas, with sunscreen dispersion believed to be a factor.
Palau has long been in the vanguard of marine protection, declaring its waters a shark sanctuary in 2009, designating most of its seas as a marine protection zone in 2015 and becoming the second nation to ratify the 2016 Paris climate agreement.
Alternatives to chemical sunscreens for water-users include mineral-based products based on titanium oxide or zinc oxide, and “sun-safe” rash-vests, hoods and other clothing.