Miel Holm (left) and her mom, Tarita (right). (Photos courtesy of Pura Vida Palau) 

Palau’s passing of a legislation to ban reef-toxic sunscreens may have just answered an urgent action to protect the corals but it has paved way for another need – providing an environment-friendly option on island for the masses who want to protect their skins from the sun while enjoying the pristine seas.

But fret no more as a young environment advocate had just concocted what is apparently a solution to this unforeseen problem – local access to sunscreens that are legally and environmentally acceptable.

In a small island country where people always say there is not much going on, bored teens can easily get their hands into something and chances of them treading the wrong path is an idea that could be too enticing at times if not guided properly. But not this young social entrepreneur who is treating her business venture like it is alchemy.

Miel Holm, 18, is not just an ordinary name you would hear for the first time and then forget. Hers is a name that you would hear every once in a while but one you would always associate with environment conservation.

Being born to a family that strongly advocates for environment conservation, Holm said that protecting the environment is a value she learned from her mom, auntie, and grandma whom she considers as “strong women conservationists.” Add also the fact that being a Palauan herself has made her grow up in a community that is very conscious about environment protection, it is no wonder Holm would find herself being involved in advocacies on environment protection.

It was in May 2018 when Holm decided to make use of her free time into something worthwhile after just earning a high school diploma from the Palau Mission Academy (PMA).Holm recalled that she learned from her aunt, who is living in Hawaii, that a woman there was making homemade, reef-safe sunscreens and were selling the product in the market.

“So I thought it would be a good project for me to work on since I was taking a gap year,” Holm said.

“I have some kind of knowledge about the harmful effects of sunscreen on corals and I realized that we don’t really have a lot of options here. We don’t really have any reef-safe sunscreens and no one is doing it so I thought it would be a good idea for me to do that,” Holm shared.

Holm then began her work by doing research online and eventually stumbled upon a website called wellnessmama.com where she learned about a recipe for reef-safe sunscreens. Coupled with some research work, Holm did some tweaking on the ingredients to come up with the reef-safe sun cream that is now called the Pura Vida, which are Spanish words for “pure life”.

The sunscreen, which is 100% made of natural products, also comes with environment-friendly packaging. The first batch of sunscreens she made, according to Holm, she tested on herself, family, and teammates under the Palau Paddling Team. The sample turned out well and received affirmative response, hence prompting Holm to start to pitch products to a gift shop in one of the big hotels in Palau.

According to Holm, among the ingredients of the sunscreen are natural oils from carrot seeds and red rasp raspberries seed which are known to be naturally high in SPF (Sun Protection Factor).

Since some ingredients are not available on island, Holm said that she needed to get some supplies via online shop.

When the product started to sell well, Holm shared that she started to send letters to stores, dive shops, and gift shops for further distribution. Since then, the demand for the product has been increasing and she even gets inquiries via social media from people in Taiwan who wanted to buy her product. There is also an interest for the product in certain locations in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), particularly in Yap, according to Holm.

Due to demand, Holm said that she is now working on putting up a website where people outside Palau could order her products.

At a young age, Holm had been part of several youth initiatives on environment conservation in Palau. While in Junior high school, she started the Heirs to Our Ocean chapter in the country – a global movement of young leaders who advocate for ocean conservationand started theplastic-free initiative.

Through the Responsible Tourism Education Act of 2018, Palau bans the selling or importing of sunscreen products containing chemicals such as oxybenzone, octocylene, 4-methyl-benzylidene camphor and parabens and triclosan that are believed to harm corals. The law, which will be fully implemented on January 1, 2020, imposes a fine of up to $1,000 against retailers who will be found selling the prohibited products. (By Rhealyn C. Pojas)