Miami Beach, Surfside Consider Banning Sunscreens Harmful to Coral Reefs UPDATED

Update: The measure to ban sale of sunscreen containing oxybenzone or octinoxate failed at Wednesday's commission meeting. Commissioners said they wanted to further study the issue, and referred it to the city's sustainability committee.

Last month, Key West became the second locale in the country to ban sunscreens containing chemicals believed to harm coral reefs. Now, officials in Miami Beach and Surfside are considering passing bans of their own.

During their meeting today, Beach commissioners will consider prohibiting the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone or octinoxate beginning in 2021. Researchers say the two chemicals can cause bleaching, deformities, and death in coral. They are used in many top sunscreen products — one survey found oxybenzone in two-thirds of them — but reef-friendlier alternatives are available.

"Yes, we are the Sunshine State, and yes, people need to protect themselves from the sun by using UV-type products," says Commissioner Michael Góngora, who proposed the ban. "But this is one of nine types of products approved by the FDA, and if there are products that are not harmful to the environment and to humans, I thought that we should move in that direction."

Meanwhile, Surfside Mayor Daniel Dietch has called for the town to pass its own reef-friendly sunscreen measure. Yesterday he began the process of passing a law similar to the one under consideration in Miami Beach. "The Town of Surfside has an obligation to be a good steward of our environment," the agenda item reads. "Part of this stewardship extends to coral reefs, which are an important part of our coastal systems."

The wave of sunscreen bans began last year in Hawaii, where lawmakers barred the sale of protectants containing oxybenzone or octinoxate after January 1, 2021. Key West followed on February 7, with Mayor Teri Johnson saying, "We just thought if there was one thing we could do to take one of the stressors away, it was our responsibility to do so."

But the move has not been without controversy. Some dermatologists, concerned that skin cancer rates could rise, say more research is necessary. Trade groups have also opposed the bans, some arguing against claims the chemicals damage reefs. Góngora says Miami Beach has already heard from opponents of his proposed ordinance — even though it has yet to go before the commission.

He stresses that protection from the sun is important, and that reef-friendly alternatives are available.

"I'm somebody who uses sunscreen every day with an SPF of 50, and will continue to do so," he says. "I just want to use products that don't harm me or the environment."

The Miami Beach meeting is being held in the city hall commission chambers on the third floor of 1700 Convention Center Drive. 
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Brittany Shammas is a former staff writer at Miami New Times. She covered education in Naples before taking a job at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. She joined New Times in 2016.
Contact: Brittany Shammas