Cosmos, Monday 4th October
Some experts are yet to be persuaded by the findings, however.
“Any contaminant can experimentally damage a coral under artificially high concentrations. The amount [in the wild] must be tiny due to dilution,” commented Terry Hughes, director of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Queensland.
“Imagine how much water a tourist wearing one teaspoon of sunscreen swims through in an hour-long snorkel. Compared to real threats like global warming, runoff and overfishing, any impact of sunscreen is unproven and undoubtedly trivial,” he said.
However, Pusceddu argued that the coral response to sunscreen exposure was not dose dependent, “The mechanism appears to be on-off: thus once the virus has been switched on by [the chemicals in] sunscreen, toxicity is irrelevant.”
Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of marine studies at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, said the study is interesting, but notes that many factors are likely to be responsible. “Bleaching is like a runny nose: there are lots of things that could cause it.”
Though sunscreens may contribute to coral death, virus-caused bleaching is only a small part of the big picture, he said: “Climate related bleaching is a direct consequence of heat stress and does not involve viruses or bacteria.”