Is the 'Reef-Safe' Term a Scam? Why We Changed Our Stance On Reef Safety.


May 31, 202311 min read


  • Rethink the concept of "reef-safe" and focus on more impactful actions for coral reef conservation.
  • Embrace responsible tourism, reduce pollution, and savor sustainably caught seafood.
  • Voice your concerns, preserve the coral reef's natural beauty, and use water wisely.
  • Waste less, become a coral crusader by staying informed, and volunteer to make a splash.
  • Support brands with a sustainable purpose, like Tropic Labs, to actively contribute to coral reef preservation.

Are you an ocean activist or reef-safe enthusiast? If so, then this blog post is for you! We've been talking a lot lately about the concept of "reef-safe" and how it isn't necessarily as helpful as our intentions when it comes to protecting our reefs. As many of us know, coral reefs provide ecosystems that support marine life while serving as natural barriers from storms and erosion along coastlines—it's essential we take decisive steps to protect their health. But is the term of “reef-safe” efficient enough in achieving conservation efforts? That's why today, we wanted to tackle the idea of “reef-safety” head-on—exploring different actions and strategies we can implement more effectively than rebranding under what could potentially become a shallow statement. It's time for us to look beneath the surface, challenge assumptions —and act with both responsibility toward one another and compassion toward our oceans!

Change in Perspective:

When we first launched our suncare brand in 2018, we made the claim that our sunscreen Smart Screen was ‘reef safe’. Like many brands at the time, this was thought to mean not using common UV filters like oxybenzone and octinoxate which were circulating in scientific publications, suggesting that they can negatively impact and bleach coral reefs.

Since our formulas were (and still are!) non-nano zinc-oxide only and the marine environment is so near and dear to all our hearts, we proudly claimed reef-safe on our products, however, we have all since learned that which UV filter is in your sunscreen is only a small part of the problem affecting coral reefs worldwide. The real, major driver behind global coral bleaching is climate change due to rising ocean temperatures, and in fact, which sunscreen you choose to wear has very little to do with it.

Beyond the Illusion:

Because the term ‘reef-safe’ has no standard or regulated meaning behind it, it can give consumers a false sense of activism that would be better directed at ocean     conservation and climate change causes.”

Dr. Craig Downs, Executive Director of Haereticus Environmental Laboratory

So like any good scientist, when presented with more information…

We changed our stance.

We no longer claim our sunscreen is ‘reef safe’ because the term is… well.. meaningless!

While it is true that sunscreen ingredients can wash off and persist in the ocean long after you’ve finished your surf or your snorkel, more recent studies have since come to light that put the overall impact of sunscreens in reefs into perspective. If you know you will be in direct close contact with marine life and are concerned about the impact of the chemicals on your body, you’re better off wearing a rashie or other sun protective clothing - it will protect you more than any sunscreen possibly could anyway!

At the end of the day, the best sunscreen for you is the one that you use and love to reapply often and we’re not trying to BS you into choosing our sunscreen over any other simply because you love the beach just as much as we do.

Practical Steps for Real Impact:

Now, what are some of the meaningful actions we can take beyond “reef-safe” claims? Let's dive into some practical steps we can take to make a real impact on preserving these underwater wonders. Here are our top tips, presented in the unique Tropic Labs style:

1️⃣ Reduce Pollution: Be an eco-warrior on land! Opt for greener transportation methods like cycling or walking, and switch to energy-efficient light bulbs. By curbing carbon dioxide emissions, we can combat ocean warming and acidification, which directly affect coral reefs.

2️⃣ Embrace Responsible Tourism: When visiting the reef, choose a responsible operator who prioritizes reef conservation. Avoid damaging coral by being mindful of boat anchors and respecting marine life. Let's leave only footprints and memories behind!

3️⃣ Savor Sustainably: Keep the coral reef in balance by indulging in sustainably caught seafood. By reducing the pressure on fish populations, we prevent disruptions to the delicate web of life and avoid unwanted algae invasion. Look out for labels that give a thumbs-up to sustainable fishing practices.

4️⃣ Voice Your Concerns: Coral reefs may not be in your backyard, but your voice matters! Engage with your local representatives and inquire about marine policies. Together, we can influence decisions that safeguard coral reefs on a national, regional, and global scale. Let your voice ride the waves of change!

5️⃣ Preserve the Precious: The coral reef is a natural treasure, so let's keep it where it belongs—in the ocean. Resist the temptation to purchase coral-made trinkets, from jewelry to souvenirs. Let's appreciate the beauty of coral in its natural habitat, for there's no better place for it to thrive.

6️⃣ Use Water Wisely: A simple act like using water responsibly can have a ripple effect on coral reef preservation. Whether it's taking shorter showers or minimizing water usage for daily activities, every drop counts. By reducing wastewater, we minimize the impact on oceans and safeguard the health of the reef.

7️⃣ Waste Less, Protect More: Plastic waste poses a grave threat to coral reefs. Large plastics entangle majestic creatures like turtles, while smaller particles harm seabirds and clog the precious guts of plankton. Let's reduce our plastic consumption and choose eco-friendly alternatives to keep our reefs flourishing.

8️⃣ Become a Coral Crusader: Dive into the depths of knowledge and become a citizen scientist. Research like the XL Catlin Seaview Survey sheds light on both positive and negative human impacts on coral reefs. By staying informed, we empower ourselves to take action and conserve these underwater wonders for future generations.

9️⃣ Volunteer, Make a Splash: You don't need to be a mermaid or merman to make a difference. Dive into local beach clean-ups or other environment-focused initiatives. Every act, big or small, counts toward safeguarding our fragile ecosystems. Let's unite and make a lasting impact, one beach at a time.

🔟 Share the Wonder: The coral reef is a mesmerizing realm that faces an uncertain future. It's time to be the voice of change! Spread the message both online and offline, inspiring others with tales of the magnificent creatures that call the reef their home. Let's raise awareness about the threats they face and encourage action to protect this invaluable ecosystem.

1️⃣1️⃣ Support Brands with Purpose: Stand up for sustainability by supporting brands that share your commitment to protecting the environment. Here at Tropic Labs, we're proud sponsors of the Coral Restoration Foundation and partners with rePurpose Global. We go the extra mile by offering 100% recyclable packaging and providing resources to guide people on proper recycling practices. By choosing brands with a sustainable purpose, like Tropic Labs, you actively contribute to the preservation of our coral reefs and the health of our planet.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, we can all make small changes that have a big impact on our fragile ecosystem. Look at contributions you can make such as reducing plastic waste or engaging with faith leaders committed to working on climate issues. Furthermore, consider donating to impactful organizations, joining peaceful protests, supporting public policies that promote sustainability, and staying educated by researching and uncovering other activities we can do for a better world.

Here at Tropic Labs, we are proud sponsors of Florida’s Coral Restoration Foundation—the world’s largest reef restoration organization. They have farmed and outplanted more than 100,000 corals in the Florida Reef Tract, working tirelessly to restore and protect our precious reefs. A portion of each of our sales goes to CRF’s crucial mission, meaning that by choosing our products, you are directly contributing to the protection of our oceans.

So let’s all collectively take action by raising awareness about these issues, acting on the listed meaningful actions, and staying educated to protect our planet—for ourselves and all future generations! Together, we can create a brighter and more sustainable future for our coral reefs and the entire marine ecosystem.

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