Environmental groups and lawmakers gathered Wednesday at the Capitol in support of a bill to ban coral-damaging sunscreens.

Senate Bill 2571 would prohibit the sale of sunscreen with oxybenzone and octinoxate without a prescription. Although coral bleaching is mainly caused by the warming of ocean temperatures and increased ocean acidification, research shows the chemicals can also bleach corals and inhibit the growth of sea life.

The bill is headed next to conference committee, where representatives from both chambers will try to hammer out differences in the versions that have been approved.

From left, Rep. Gene Ward, Sen Will Espero, Friends of Hanauma Bay President Lisa Bishop, Craig Downs of Haereticus Environmental Laboratory and Rep. Nicole Lowen showed their support for the bill Wednesday. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

Samples of eco-friendly sunscreen were handed out. The stage was decorated with buckets of reef-toxic sunscreen that a group of Kaiser High School students took from Hanauma Bay visitors in exchange for reef-safe sunscreen.

More than half of Hawaii Island’s coral is bleached, said Elyssa Farmer of the Maui Ocean Center. The same is true for more than 40 percent of West Maui corals and 30 percent of those on Oahu. Fish, seaweed and other food sources have been contaminated with sunscreen chemicals, she said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misquoted Farmer as saying that half of the state’s coral is bleached.

On Maui alone, it’s estimated that 55 gallons of sunscreen are dumped into the water every day. No sunscreen is good for reefs, but some ingredients are worse than others, said Craig Downs, a scientist who tested water samples at Hanauma Bay.

His test results indicated sunscreen levels were high in the bay, “very close to the point of no return,” he said. Dead reefs could degrade to rubble and sand. Hawaii’s reputation as a tourism destination could be marred without sea life and reefs, he said.

“The weather’s great in California, too,” Downs said. “Hawaii has a lot to lose.”

Sen. Mike Gabbard, equipped with a guitar and harmonica, was on hand to sing a brief song about banning oxybenzone. Gabbard introduced SB 2571.

Despite pushback from the cosmetic industry and dermatologists, Sen. Will Espero said Hawaii is poised to make history as the first state to ban sunscreen with hazardous chemicals.

Rep. Nicole Lowen, who has previously introduced similar legislation, said a fifth of the world’s coral is dead. Ninety percent of reefs could be dead in 30 years, she said.

Lowen said her district, west Hawaii Island, once had the healthiest and most vibrant reefs in the state. The difference is palpable since the world’s last major bleaching event a few years ago.

“We have to do everything we can to prevent this from happening,” she said.

Rep. Gene Ward, a member of the House conference committee, warned participants to be wary of any last-minute changes to the bill. He compared the month of April in the legislative session to the Bermuda triangle.

“Be alert, be sober,” he said. “It ain’t over yet.”

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