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Executive Summary for May 4th

In our weekly news roundup, we report on why Hawaii is banning some sunscreens to save corals, the world’s first floating nuclear power plant and a new study measuring global beach erosion.

Published on May 4, 2018 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Hawaii on Verge of Banning Reef-Damaging Sunscreens

In a first in the United States and likely globally, the Hawaii state legislature passed a bill this week that would ban the sale of sunscreens that contain chemicals that harm coral reefs. The bill is now awaiting Governor David Ige’s signature, according to the Honolulu-Star Advertiser.

Science has emerged in recent years showing that sunscreen chemical oxybenzone can damage or kill corals by causing DNA mutations and increasing vulnerability to bleaching. An endocrine disruptor, the chemical also affects the development and health of fish and other marine species. Marine biologist Craig Downs told Oceans Deeply that coral DNA damage from sunscreen was a “completely unexpected” discovery about a decade ago.

The bill, supported by environmental groups, was opposed by business and consumer products groups as well as the state’s medical association. Oxybenzone is an active ingredient in thousands of products that protect skin from the sun’s rays. Starting in 2021, when the ban would take effect, tourists could still use sunscreens containing the chemical – they just wouldn’t be able to buy it in the state without a prescription.

‘Floating Chernobyl’ Sets Sail

The world’s first floating nuclear power plant, which Russia plans to put in service in 2019, got its sea legs this week as it was towed out of a St. Petersburg shipyard through the Baltic Sea to be loaded with fuel.

Greenpeace has dubbed the Akademik Lomonosov a “floating Chernobyl,” arguing the safety risks are higher than for reactors on land as options are more limited if something goes wrong. “Nuclear reactors bobbing around the Arctic Ocean will pose a shockingly obvious threat to a fragile environment, which is already under enormous pressure from climate change,” Greenpeace nuclear expert Jan Haverkamp said in a statement.

But Russian state officials say it is designed with a margin of safety that “exceeds all possible threats” and is “invincible” in the face of tsunamis or other natural disasters. Eventually it will be anchored in northeast Russia, generating up to 70 megawatts of electricity, making it the most northerly nuclear power plant in the world. It will help power a port town and oil drilling operations, replacing another aging plant. Rosatom, the state nuclear energy agency, is also in talks with other nations interested in the technology, according to the Washington Post.

Marine Protected Areas Experience More Beach Erosion

How much sandy shoreline is there in the world, and how much of it is disappearing? Seems like a basic question, but it’s been a deceptively difficult one to answer to date, according to a new study.

Published in the journal Scientific Reports, the paper from researchers in the Netherlands on the “state of the world’s beaches” uses three decades of satellite imagery and artificial intelligence to produce what they call the first global quantitative assessment of these questions. The researchers found that 31 percent of the world’s ice-free shorelines are sandy, about the middle of the range of previous estimates. Since 1984, they found that 24 percent of the world’s beaches are eroding at rates greater than 0.5 meters a year, 48 percent are “stable” and 28 percent are growing.

The analysis also finds that a relatively high proportion of sandy shorelines bordering marine protected areas – 37 percent – are eroding, “raising cause for serious concern.”

Beaches in the United States are some of the fastest eroding in the world. Globally, about 7 percent of beaches are experiencing “severe” erosion, due to human activities, sea level rise, storms and natural processes. The authors believe there’s “great potential” for their methods to be used for better beach and coastal monitoring in the future.

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