Bol, S.

UV filter pollution Bonaire by tourism - Lac Bay monitoring and survey results 2017

Chronic stressors such as water pollution, overfishing, and ocean warming are major threats to the resilience of coral reefs as they influence processes that underlie resistance and recovery of reef ecosystems. Local management actions and policy increasingly have to focus on supporting the resilience of these ecosystems. This requires customization of management on smaller spatial scales.

Tourism contributes to reduced water quality due to the emission of suncare products by swimming recreationists. Recent research shows that UV filters (viz. oxybenzone) in suncare products can contribute to reduced vitality of coral ecosystems. Monitoring in 2016 showed that these substances are also present in coastal waters of Bonaire, at levels of serious environmental concern.

Although water quality of Bonaire seems to be affected by sunscreen pollution, the local action perspective is also specific. The public opinion can be influenced by translating scientific results to articles suitable for a broader public audience and by providing accessible information via various media. Raising public awareness may result in both reduced supply and use of specific harmful products, since appropriate alternatives are already available.

WWF and the Ministry of Economic affairs assigned various smaller projects of which the activities, results and conclusions are presented in this report. WMR and Boneiru Duraderu worked together on these assignments in the so called “Sunscreen awareness project”.

Main research questions were:

  • Was the presence of polluting UV filters at Sorobon in 2016 a one-time observation, or are these substances found in other time periods as well. Do concentrations depend on tourism intensity and products used?
  • How can the local use of sunscreen products containing oxybenzone be effectively influenced, so that coral ecosystems on Bonaire are no longer at risk from such products.


To answer these question various activities were exploited:

  • Monitoring and surveys:
  • Chemical monitoring with focus on field concentrations of UV filters in November 2017 during the peak of the cruise season.
  • Conducting Beach surveys among tourists in order get preliminary information on tourist intensity and sunscreen use during field monitoring.
  • Stakeholder involvement:
  • Conduct shop surveys in order to get information on products sold and willingness of owners to make a change.
  • Host a conference to present results and to prepare a voluntary covenant and involve stakeholders.
  • Contribute with scientific knowledge to media and local provide information.


Monitoring of UV filter levels showed that UV filters oxybezone and octocrylene were present in the water, at levels indicating environmental risk. Risk quotients (RQ) of oxybenzone range between 0 and 2.8 whereas risk quotients of octocrylene range between 6 and 52. It should however be noted that the RQ’s of octocrylene are derived from a rather limited data set, and are higher due to the higher uncertainty factor applied.

Although the study was indicative, UV-filter levels and thus risk seem to be related to tourist intensity, origin and product use. Levels of especially oxybenzone were higher when more oxybenzone products were used among tourists on the beach. These tourists originated mostly from the US, enjoying a cruise holiday. Stay-over tourists from the EU show a relatively limited use of oxybenzone-based sunscreen products.

Stakeholder involvement included surveys and interviews in the preparation towards the Sunscreen Awareness conference at which various stakeholder were invited to discuss how to move forward on the topic.

The attendees of the conference participated in a lively discussion, and the following paths forward were identified:

  1. Legal Ban for sunscreens.
  2. Changing consumer behaviour.
  3. Introduction of an environmental tax for cruise tourist.


Stakeholders vary in their view towards the daily practice and effectivity of a legal ban, and pro’s and con’s are listed in the report. Common ground was found in the possibility to include a rule in the Marine Park management plan to strengthen the communication about the subject. Awareness and influencing consumer behaviour was viewed as the best way to move forward. Moreover, an awareness campaign can be implemented much faster than a law. To pay for such an ongoing awareness campaign, the introduction of an environmental tax for cruise tourists was suggested. Remarks and additional research questions are listed in the report.

In summary, future research and awareness should focus on:

  • additional monitoring at the west coast to broaden the scope and relation to tourist origin, density and product use
  • effects of field relevant levels of sunscreen
  • study the effect of so called “safe alternatives”
  • involvement of the cruise sector, and study the willingness to change to other products


Data type
Research report
Research and monitoring
Report number
Geographic location

Sunscreen Awareness Bonaire- Moving towards a oxybenzone free island

Wageningen Marine Research (WMR) and Boneiru Duradero (BD) supported by World Wide Fund for Nature the Netherlands (WWF-NL)organised a Sunscreen Awareness Conference, on March 21st 2018, inviting stakeholders from the government, NGO’s and tourism sector on Bonaire to participate. The goal of the conference was twofold:

1.         Educate participants about international sunscreen research and the studies that were implemented on Bonaire. 

2.         Create “buy-in” and create partnerships by engaging stakeholders to develop an island wide sunscreen strategy for Bonaire. 

The conference started with a presentation by Diana Slijkerman (WMR), to inform participants on international sunscreen research and the studies that were implemented on Bonaire. Sunscreen research is relatively new and still ongoing, but one thing is very clear: the UV-filter oxybenzone has been identified as the major “culprit” harming corals. 

Studies done in 2016 and 2017 on Bonaire showed that UV filters from sunscreens are present in the water of Lac Bay at levels that cannot exclude environmental effects on the organisms in the highly valuable ecosystems. The latest study also included nearly 400 interviews among beach goers on Sorobon, asking the tourists where they are from, what sunscreen products they use, and whether or not it includes oxybenzone. Although the study was indicative, UV-filter levels and thus environmental risk seem to be related to tourist intensity, country of origin and product use. The levels of oxybenzone found in water samples were higher when more beachgoers used oxybenzone-products. These tourists, predominantly cruise tourists, were mostly originating from the US. Stay-over tourists from the EU show a relatively limited use of oxybenzone-based sunscreen products. 

Dr. Slijkerman’s problem analyses made clear that sunscreen pollution is neither the biggest nor the only threat to coral reefs. Climate change, overfishing and eutrophication are the main drivers of the degradation of our reefs for the last decades. However, impaired water quality by chemicals such as UV filters adds to the problems of already stressed reefs which undermines their resilience and ability to withstand and recover from e.g. global warming related impacts. 

Although not studied extensively, international scientist claim that sunscreen products containing UV-filters based on zinc and titanium are better alternatives. A positive and clear action perspective on the local scale makes it possible to improve water quality in order to make reefs more resilient. 

Participants of the sunscreen conference agreed on the clear action perspective. “When we convince tourists on Bonaire to use sunscreens without oxybenzone, every swimmer, snorkeler and diver can contribute to the improvement of water quality today” Sharon Bol says.  

There was a general consensus among all participants that action should be taken on Bonaire concerning potentially harmful sunscreens. The attendees of the conference participated in a lively discussion, and the following paths forward were identified:

1.         Legal ban of oxybenzone-containing products.

2.         Changing consumer behaviour.

3.         An environmental tax for cruise tourist.

Representatives from the tourism sector were mostly in favour of a legal ban. They feel that a legal ban on the UV-filter oxybenzone will make it easier to convince their customers of the harmful impact of sunscreens to our reef. In contrast, most NGO’s and members of the government are opposed to a ban. They have concerns about the feasibility. In the first place, it would be very difficult to build a legal framework that covers all arguments. Enforcement would also be an issue: “We could try to prohibit the sale of sunscreens with oxybenzone on Bonaire, but it is impossible to control the sunscreen products tourists bring from home”. A rule in the Bonaire National Marine Parkmanagement plan could, however, strengthen the communication about the subject. 

The solution for reducing impact of sunscreens on the reef is largely connected to behavioural change. It is as simple as avoiding sunscreens with oxybenzone. That is why most participants of the sunscreen conference viewed awarenessas the best way to move forward. Moreover, an awareness campaign can be implemented much faster than a law. Another advantage of sunscreen awareness is that it can help to reinforce Bonaire’s positioning on the “vacation market”. After all, we are striving to be a sustainable island. Participants agreed unanimously that there is a positive and clear action perspective. WMR and BD are in the process of developing communication materials for an island wide awareness campaign. This includes an educational poster and an animation video that should educate tourists and inhabitants on Bonaire about the effect that sunscreens with the UV-filter oxybenzone can have on corals.

The informative poster was finalised using the participants inputs, and distributed among dive shops and supermarkets. The online artwork of the poster reached 35.000 people through Facebook. The animation was also launched online and had 5000 views. It could be promoted further e.g. via Tourist TV and TV screens at airport, in hotel lobbies and restaurants. 

The fact that cruise tourists do not pay any feefor the use of the marine park is a concern to most participants of the sunscreen conference. Stay-over tourists and other users of the marine park pay an annual fee of 10 USD for water activities such as swimming or bathing but cruise tourists don’t have to pay. Since cruise tourists that enter Bonaire’s sea attribute to the decreased water quality too, an environmental tax for cruise ship visitors should be considered. This tax would allow Bonaire to continually fund awareness campaigns, educating tourists about the use of sunscreens and the unique value of Bonaire’s coral reefs. Most importantly is that the cruise sector has to be engaged, on a strategic island level. Cruise tourists  should be made aware of the unique quality of Bonaire’s nature and the fact that they are visiting protected areas. Furthermore, they should be informed NOT to bring oxybenzone-sunscreens to Bonaire while booking their trip.  

During the conference, many remarks and questions were brought into the lively discussion. Among many things it was argued whether or not the current law already provides us the ability to prevent the use of oxybenzone inside the Bonaire National Marine Parkvia a revision or addition in the marine park management plan. The urgent need for more research was also expressed. Research should focus on additional water quality monitoring, and potential levels and effects of current proposed alternatives such as zinc and titanium. The conference concluded with a list of action points and possible opportunities for island-wide cooperation.

Soon after the conference, several positive steps forward were made by the public and private sector on Bonaire. Van den Tweel Supermarket Bonaire is one of the first supermarkets on Bonaire that removed sunscreens with the UV-filter Oxybenzone from their assortment. Furthermore, Jibe City did not hesitate and switched to selling a different brand of sunscreen. And, inspired by the recent decision of Hawaii to ban harmful sunscreens, the Island Council unanimously adopted a motion calling for a ban per January 1, 2021 for sunscreen product containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. The team is willing to share their knowledge and contribute to the steps to be taken in the process that lies ahead. 

Coming year, the project team goes ahead with the Sunscreen Awareness project, focusing on both remaining research topics and awareness raising via various media. 

Questions and remarks? Please contact the team via: and

We thank Sabine Engel (STINAPA Bonaire), Olivier Kramer and Carolyn Caporusso for their assistance and support. 

This news-tem was published by DCNA in BioNews 15-2018

Data type
Education and outreach
Research and monitoring
Geographic location