Leaving For Maui? Make Sure This Isn’t In Your Suitcase

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Kaanapali Beach, MauiPhoto credit: Jeff Whyte / Shutterstock.com

The grace period has ended for visitors and businesses in Maui to make the switch to mineral-based sunscreens.

As of the start of October, anyone caught using or selling chemical-based or other non-compliant sunscreens can face significant fines.

The move to mineral-based sunscreens is an attempt to protect the coral reefs surrounding the Hawaiian islands. Chemicals found in the most common sunscreens wear off of swimmers and others in the water and little by little cause damage to the ecosystem, researchers say.

“Hawaii is one of the most isolated archipelagos on earth, and our coral reefs are home to unique marine life found nowhere else on the planet,” the county said in a statement explaining the ordinance.

“Here in Maui County, reefs are not only extremely important habitats, they are fundamental to the marine economy,” the statement continues. “Coral reefs also provide us with places for recreation and longstanding Hawaiian cultural practices. Reefs buffer us against waves, storms and floods which helps prevent property damage, erosion and loss of life.”

What The Ordinance Says

The new rules allow only for the sale and use of mineral sunscreens made with “non-nanotized” zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which are considered natural mineral ingredients.

A similar ordinance goes into effect on the island of Hawaii in December.

The Maui ordinance was passed in January, with retailers and residents given 9 months to clear their shelves of any products that don’t comply with the ordinance. Warnings and reminders have been issued over recent weeks and months about the start of the new rules, which went into effect over the weekend.

Violators can face a fine of up to $1,000 for non-compliance and can face fines of up to $1,000 per day for each day that the violation persists.

“This ordinance is one important step to protect our coral reefs, which provide the first defense against erosion from sea-level rise and are critically important for biodiversity, recreation, food sources and our tourism industry,” said Maui County Council member Kelly King.

Ingredients Vs. Marketing

Officials are reminding retailers and visitors to check the ingredients on the sunscreen containers to confirm they meet the standard. Many sunscreens are labeled as “reef friendly” or “reef safe,” but they are marketing tools that might not necessarily fit the ordinance.

“We want to fight to actually be able to classify truly reef safe sunscreens that are effective and can prevent overexposure to ultraviolet radiation,” Dr. Kevin Cassel of the Hawaii Skin Cancer Coalition told USA Today. “We want the best of both, and it will take some work to do it, but I think we can get there.”

One Battle In A Bigger Fight

Officials note there are plenty of threats to the coral reefs, and limiting sunscreens is just one of the many small battles being fought.

They noted that thousands of visitors are enjoying Maui’s beaches, parks, and nature reserves daily and that chemicals from sunscreen are washing off people every single day.

Even those using the chemicals far from the beach will have them washed off eventually, and the chemicals will find their way to the ocean.

“By removing a known stressor from the picture — petrochemical sunscreens — we increase the health and resilience of coral reefs so that they can be better equipped to handle the threats posed by pollution and climate change,” officials said.

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