From June 10 to June 15, 2019, Museum of Tomorrow’s intern Jenny Yu visited Hawaii for the first time—specifically to the island of Maui. “I’ve never been to Hawaii before, and I’ve always wanted to snorkel along the coral reefs there.” However, one thing she noticed upon many beach fronts in Maui, often written and tacked onto wooden posts and placards, were signs reminding guests to check their sunscreen for coral bleaching chemicals.
But what does this mean, and why is it an issue? In an article titled “Is Your Sunscreen Killing Coral Reefs?” from The Ocean Foundation, Catharine Cooper, a board advisor of the foundation, says that if you don’t know whether your sunscreen is reef-safe or not, then it most likely isn’t. Just a small amount of certain chemicals found in most drug and department store sunscreens can cause corals to bleach and lose their color, damaging the symbiotic relationship between coral and zooxanthellae, an algae that lives in coral tissue and helps its host remove waste and produce oxygen.
While coral reef preservation may not seem like a major issue initially, it certainly is, as coral reefs—while covering less than one percent of the ocean floor—account for nearly twenty-five percent of biodiversity in the ocean. Not to mention the estimated one BILLION people that rely on coral reefs for everything from sustenance to income generated from tourism. And in recent decades, with scientists already stressing that coral reefs are in jeopardy from climate change and ocean acidification, adding sunscreen to the list of coral stressors should be readily prevented, whether through government intervention, business cooperation, or consumer awareness.
However, for many vacationers like Jenny who want to keep dangerous sun rays at bay while enjoying a beautiful day out at the beach, not all hope is lost. In response to consumer demand, some companies have launched “reef safe” sunscreens, devoid of coral toxic chemicals. Most easily available for purchase online, these sunscreens promise to be “marine friendly,” often labeling themselves so with a happy sticker for confirmation. But consumers should be aware that labels can be misleading, and must be read with care. (To check for ingredients in your sunscreen individually, here is a list of chemicals that are dangerous to marine life often found in sunscreens: Oxybenzone, Benzophenone-1, Benzophenone-8, OD-PABA, 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor, 3-Benzylidene camphor, nano-Titanium dioxide, and nano-Zinc oxide.)
The National Park service also provided some input on the issue, advocating for mineral sunscreens with “non-nanotized” (which means that the ingredients are 100 nanometers in diameter or more) zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which appear to be safer for coral reefs than chemical ones. And others maintain that the best way to protect coral reefs around beaches is to avoid sunscreen altogether, and seek shade and protection from the sun in the form of hats, sunglasses, and umbrellas.
In the end, the good news is that as consumers are becoming more aware of this issue, change will follow. So hopefully, the next time Jenny visits Hawaii, there will be a bounty of reef-safe, sun-protectant methods for her to choose from, as keeping corals safe will be the new norm.
Museum of Tomorrow has made its second public appearance as one of the keynote speakers at Alameda Elementary's Environmental Literacy training project. The project was an event co-hosted by the City of Alameda, UC Berkeley and Lawrence Hall of Science.
At the event, Jessica shared some of the basic fundamentals underlying the design processes of Museum of Tomorrow are Klob's Experiential Learning Cycle and the Theory of Planned Behavior in social-psychology. Museum of Tomorrow is fostering behavioral change in a systematic way that involves attitude, subjective norms and behavioral control, which are the three components of a "planned behavior" through the process of experiential learning.
First: It changes the negative and depressed attitude of climate change into fun and empowered.
Second: It creates positive subjective norms through its Instagrambility, chirpy slogans and bright colors.
Third: It provides the necessary tools for people to adopt sustainability easily for easy behavioral control.
Together with these elements, MoT was able to produce an average of 35% point increase in pro-environmental behavior commitments across all exhibits. The pedagogical counseling done at Bay Farm's Elementary has captivated teachers at the event by the mind-blowing facts and theories, leading to more inquiries on potential partnerships. Soon enough, Museum of Tomorrow would be popping up at campuses across all ages!
Single-use plastics are designed to be used only once and discarded, often with little thought. Cheap and durable, they’ve found their way into almost every supermarket shelf, department store, and American household, perpetuating the unsustainable consumerist mentality many share today. Serving their purpose for only a few days, or maybe even an hour, single-use plastics can persist in the environment for hundreds or even thousands of years, producing a variety of environmental and health concerns.
In addressing the issues surrounding single-use plastics, many governments around the country have taken small but crucial steps towards ending their use. On July 1, 2018, Seattle became the first U.S. city to ban the use of plastic straws, stir sticks, and untensils for vendors in the muncipality. (Straws made of compostable paper or plastic are still allowed.)” Jumping on board, San Francisco’s ban on plastic straws will take effect July 2019, and the New York City Council announced legislation to ban plastic straws by 2020.
Taking even greater measures, after discovering that plastics make up more than 80% of marine litter, the European Union has approved a law which bans a wide-range of single-use plastics including straws, cotton buds, and cutlery by 2021. And a couple days ago, on July 9, 2019, the Canadian government under Trudeau also announced a ban on single-use plastics by 2021, drawing inspiration from the European Union.
While government policy and intervention will remain a critical method for tackling environmental issues, we as consumers also have the power to affect change. Simple measures like keeping reusable bags inside cars, purchasing cereals from bulk bins, and bringing your own take-out containers to restaurants, can reduce and challenge our society’s comfort in utilizing single-use plastics. Entrepreneurs have also taken up the fight against plastics, with services providing beauty products in bar-form and refillable containers, and other companies selling reusable straws, compostable cutlery, and biodegradable diapers.
Setting an example for college campuses around the country, a proposed UC Berkeley initiative by a multidisciplinary team of three graduate students tackle single-use items on campus. RePeel, a reusable food container service, allows university dining areas to serve their food and drink in metal, leak-proof to-go containers. Available for drop off at designated areas around campus once finished, Berkeley students will be able to dine free of environmental guilt.
As college campuses are themselves a microcosm of society--supplying the dietary necessities of most, if not all students--universities set an example for their pupils, as the young individuals submerge themselves within the university’s structured ecosystem.
There are still many steps we must take to end our society’s obsession with single-use plastics. But with the necessary policy measures, consumer behavior, and shift in societal views, our planet will be cleaner, safer, and healthier for generations to come.
Interested in reducing your one-time plastic use and purchasing a reusable water bottle? Check out Frank Green, an Australian bottle brand “made for the environment, designed for humanity” at https://us.frankgreen.com/.
More Tips to Reduce Single-Use Plastics: