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Suncream is really bad for the ocean

Particularly phytoplankton.

Image: Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr/Creative Commons

NEXT TIME YOU’RE putting on suncream before heading to the beach, think about phytonplankton.

A new study of the contribution that sun creams make to hydrogen peroxide in coastal waters by the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (IMEDEA), Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and the University of the Balearic Islands (UIB) has found that sun cream can be particularly bad for the ocean.

The study finds that the UV filters in sun cream, when hit by large amounts of sun light, creates hydrogen peroxide.

es-2014-020696_0007 Source: Acs

While that may not seem like a big deal, hydrogen peroxide is an oxidising agent that can have a negative effect on phytoplankton. These microscopic residents of the oceans are part of a delicate ecosystem and have already seen numbers drop by 80% in parts of the ocean.

Phytoplankton are like plants in that they exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen through photosynthesis. They are in turn eaten by a host of ocean dwellers, who are then eaten by bigger fish and mammals.

Conservative estimates for a Mediterranean beach reveal that tourism activities during a summer day may release on the order of 4 kg of nanoparticles to the water.

The researchers say that this has a “direct ecological consequences on the ecosystem”.

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