How Common Cosmetic Products Damage Coral Reefs

The Mayan Riviera contains the largest coral reef in the Western Hemisphere. However, commonplace cosmetic products used by tourists threaten its health. A local couple is working hard to change that.

Pancho Mendiola is an avid scuba diver living on the Caribbean shoreline. His wife, Iliana Loza, is a chemical engineer. Together, they are working to spread awareness of how chemicals in ordinary cosmetic products are damaging one of the largest and most beautiful regions in the world: the Mesoamerican Reef. In it lies the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, spanning nearly 700 miles and a diverse array of marine wildlife, including many kinds of coral, fish, turtles and sharks.


The region’s beauty has made its coastal regions a popular attraction for marine life enthusiasts and tourists. Unfortunately, this has led to a lot of pollution in the way of chemicals that hurts the local environment. Large quantities of innocuous chemically derived products such as sunscreen and soaps permeate local waters. Indeed, in Mexico, between 4,000 and 6,000 tons of sunscreen washes off tourists annually. This, in turn, hurts native species. In particular, it harms coral reefs. In response, some areas have made biodegradable sunscreens mandatory.

In any case, high rates of tourism using large quantities of commonplace cosmetic products have inspired locals to advocate on the reef’s behalf. Mission Blue is an organization founded by Sylvia Earle—an accomplished marine biologist, oceanographer, explorer, and subject of a 2015 Emmy Award-winning Netflix documentary—with the aim of cultivating public support for Hope Spots, marine regions that are vital to the well-being of life on Earth. The organizations Communications Strategist Shilpi Chhotray recently wrote an article celebrating the work of Pancho Mendiola. He and his wife work with local communities to spread awareness of the harmful effects of chemicals found in ordinary products. In addition, Mendiola works with the prominent local Hotel Esencia to spread awareness of the ecological issues at stake and to promote the use of organic products.  

The Mayan Riviera community exemplifies hope and effective activism. Chhotray writes,

Pancho and the local community are doing an incredible job fostering dialogue and action on an important issue which is barely discussed. The Mayan Riviera Hope Spot is taking a global concern and activating their citizens to protect their marine environment. Reef safe sunblocks and other cosmetics are essential to protect marine life, as well as the user at hand.

Pancho’s initiative as a local citizen, the community’s support, and the willingness of local business to collaborate for the greater environmental good offers inspiration and hope for ordinary folks to make meaningful differences in protecting life on Earth.

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