Schoolgirls on sunscreen mission

  • Protect the reef: Jaedyn Juss, Daphne Szakats and Maya Rajeh are raising awareness of the harm oxybenzone and octinoxate found in certain sunscreen could do to our coral reefs (Photograph submitted)

    Protect the reef: Jaedyn Juss, Daphne Szakats and Maya Rajeh are raising awareness of the harm oxybenzone and octinoxate found in certain sunscreen could do to our coral reefs (Photograph submitted)

Three schoolgirls have joined an effort to outlaw sunscreens that can damage coral reefs.

Maya Rajeh, 14, Daphne Szakats, 13, and Jaedyn Judd, 14, of Somersfield Academy, used their community service project to highlight research that showed the damage ingredients in some sunscreens did to reefs.

Daphne said: “The chemicals damage the coral’s DNA which makes them struggle to reproduce and can cause coral bleaching.

“It is really important because reefs are so important to Bermuda’s economy and our safety as they protect us from storms. We thought it was a really good issue because it really relates to our community.”

She added the chemicals, oxybenzone and octinoxate, had also been linked to health problems in humans, including cancer, although more research needed to be done.

Maya added: “Last year my family and I went to Hawaii and it was the first time we had really heard about reef safe sunscreens. We thought it would be a good project to work on in Bermuda.”

The three are working with Nesi Armstrong, Bermudian representative of reef safe sunscreen Raw Essentials, along with environmentalists, to lobby the government for a ban on reef damaging sunscreens.

They also want sunscreen dispensaries set up at key spots around the island.

The girls said found out about Ms Armstrong and her product, which was used by teams in the 35th America’s Cup when it was hosted here, after they researched the subject.

Daphne said: “Nesi said she would consider bringing us to government to get us involved which would be a really good opportunity for us because we are really passionate about it.

“It is a really underrated issue that is important to Bermuda and for the community because reefs bring in so much to the economy, and they are beautiful and we want to keep them alive.”

Jaedyn added: “We had three main goals — we went to the beaches and handed out samples of the Raw Elements reef safe sunscreen, we presented to students in school and handed out samples and our third goal is to put a dispenser in our school but that is not finalised yet.”

The girls will give a presentation on their work at the community project fair at Somersfield Academy on May 29, which is open to the public.

Hawaii last year became the first US state to ban the sale of sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate and Key West in Florida did the same this year.

Craig Downs, the executive director of the non-profit Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, and colleagues from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other institutions, found in 2016 that young coral exposed to oxybenzone and octinoxate developed problems, including coral bleaching, which damages its DNA and leaves it vulnerable to infection.

Raw Elements is the official sunscreen of the Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre which also supports a ban of products containing the chemicals.

Other organisations that support a ban include environmental charities Greenrock and Keep Bermuda Beautiful.

Ms Armstrong said: “It takes more than one person. When the girls came along I felt so happy, it shows what can happen when you put what you are doing out into the universe.

“I partnered with Greenrock, KBB and BCHC and I have the support of Hawaiian senator Will Espero in getting legislation passed here.

“I am trying to get dispensers in schools and hotels, national parks and beaches.”

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Published May 23, 2019 at 1:15 pm (Updated May 27, 2019 at 9:33 am)

Schoolgirls on sunscreen mission

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