Hawaii lawmakers push legislation to combat coral bleaching
WASHINGTON - Government officials say Hawaii’s coral bleaching event is still at dangerous levels. That’s according to new data Tuesday from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
On Capitol Hill, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is working to get a pair of bills passed by the end of the year that would address coral bleaching. And it starts with a bottle of sunscreen.
The first bill would require an Environmental Protection Agency study on the impacts of chemicals in sunscreen on public health and the environment – specifically oxybenzone or octinoxate.
The second bill would require the Food and Drug Administration to develop standards for a ‘‘reef safe’’ designation for nonprescription sunscreens.
About 14,000 tons of sunscreen enter the world’s reefs every year. Gabbard says some of the chemicals inside are killing developing coral, and are contributing to coral bleaching.
“I think it’s important that as we look at the conversation around the change in our climate, the threats that we’re facing, that we’re looking at all of the different contributors that are posing threats to our oceans, to our water, to our land, and to our air,” Gabbard tells KITV.
KITV received this map on Tuesday from NOAA showing the waters around the Hawaiian Islands in “Alert Level 2,” meaning coral bleaching impact is at its worst in those areas. It also shows just how widespread coral bleaching is around Hawaii even through mid-October.
This is the third widespread coral bleaching in Hawaii since 2014.
Scientists say this happens as more carbon dioxide enters the air, leading to rising ocean water temperatures that destroys algae inside the coral, turning them wide, and eventually killing the coral.
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono has introduced legislation on the senate side calling for coral preservation research, similar to what’s happening in Kaneohe Bay.
“The best thing we can do is to deal with climate change and to decrease global warming,” Hirono said.
Last year, Hawai’i became the first state to enact legislation designed to protect coral reefs and marine ecosystems by banning sunscreens containing those two chemicals.