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