Palau made history again by becoming the first country to ban “reef-toxic” sunscreens that contains chemicals that are harmful to the coral reefs.

The Responsible Tourism Education Act 2018 was signed into law last week and contained the provision banning the sale and importation of “reef-toxic” sunscreen starting January 1, 2020.

President Tommy Remengesau Jr. Press Secretary Olkeriil Kazuo said there was scientific evidence that the chemicals found in most sunscreens were harmful to corals.

“On any given day that equates to gallons of sunscreen going into the ocean in Palau’s famous dive spot and snorkeling places,” he said in an interview.

“We’re just looking at what we can do to prevent pollution getting into the environment.”

The law stated that retailers importing or selling banned sunscreen from that date faces a $1,000 fine, while sunscreens found carried by tourists  will be confiscated.

“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,” Remengesau told leaders of Palau Congress when he signed the bill into law last week.

The ban is for sunscreens that are containing chemicals including oxybenzone, octocylene, 4-methyl-benzylidene camphor and parabens and triclosan.

The law also stated that guidance will be drafted in consultation for retailers and customs authorities on identifying reef-toxic sunscreen.

Craig Downs, executive director at the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Hawaii said Palau is trailblazing in protecting the coral reefs.

“It’s the first country to ban these chemicals from tourism. I think it’s great, they’re being proactive,” he said in an interview.

“They don’t want to be like Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, where they’ve had to shut down beaches. The coral reefs around those beaches have died.”

Early this year the US state of Hawaii announced a ban on reef toxic sunscreens but not until 2021. (Bernadette H. Carreon)