Buck Island, St. Croix, USVI

U.S. Virgin Islands legislators this week signed into law a bill banning the importation, sale and distribution of sunscreens containing oxybenzone, octinoxate and octocrylene, chemicals the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently characterized as not “generally recognized as safe and effective,” and which the legislators say threaten the territory’s coral reefs and natural environment.

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The ban is scheduled to begin on March 30, 2020, with “certain limitations beginning immediately,” said officials in local news reports. The U.S. Virgin Islands lawmakers note Hawaii and Key West have already opted to ban sunscreens containing oxybenzone or octinoxate; the U.S. Virgin Islands ban adds octocrylene to the prohibited chemicals meaning “safer mineral sunscreens become the default choice,” said government officials.

“Tourism in the Virgin Islands is our lifeblood—but to ensure we continue to entice visitors with our world-class beaches and natural beauty in the coming years, we need to protect our coral reefs as part of our quest to initiate sustainable tourism,” said Albert Bryan, the U.S. Virgin Islands governor. “We all share and must protect our oceans.”

Retailers in the territory may no longer place new orders for sunscreen containing oxybenzone, octinoxate and octocrylene and are barred from receiving shipments after September 30, officials said.

“Coral reefs have the highest biodiversity of any of the planet’s eco-systems and are vital to protecting coastlines and supporting marine life, yet the Caribbean has lost 80 percent of [its] reefs,” said Marvin A. Blyden, a U.S. Virgin Islands senator. “Safeguarding what we have is vital to tourism as well as our fishing industry and our islands in general.”

“The ban of sunscreens toxic to corals and their larvae is an important step in the protection of the coral reefs of the US Virgin Islands,” added Dr. Paul Jobsis, director of University of the Virgin Islands’ Center for Marine & Environmental Studies.