Washing Our Worries Onto Others

The blushing sun conceals

A dirty secret.

So in our quest for


We shield our glowing frames

From its spiteful rays;

Basting our bodies like

Pigs in blankets

Of congealed and

Aromatic fat.

Whilst roasting in our tins

Of solar opulence

Thermodynamics indicates that

We are now hotter

Than we once were.

And so greasily we slide

Beneath the cooling waters,

Like a living slick of oil.


As we bathe in OUR

Ocean’s translucent hues

Our unctuous skin

Begins to leak.

Its discharge slithers towards

The floor

And is greedily gobbled

Up by unassuming ‘guests’.

Gardens of rock

Which grow fat on the offcuts

That we so graciously

Throw down from our

Cornucopia of mutually

Exclusive preservation.

Reef snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, where protection from the sun might be damaging the marine life.

This science poem is inspired by recent research which has found that chemicals in sunscreen might contribute towards the decline of coral reefs.

Although sunscreen is critical for preventing sunburns and skin cancer, some of its ingredients are harmful to ocean-dwelling creatures, including coral, yet every year up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen end up in the world’s oceans. Two chemicals that are used in sunscreen (oxybenzone and octinoxate), and which are well known to harm coral, have now been banned by certain countries, but other ingredients are likely also to be having a detrimental effect.

This new research has focussed on the effect of octocrylene (OC), another of the chemical substances that are widely found in sunscreens. By exposing coral to OC at various concentrations the researchers have found that the coral is sensitive to the compound at concentrations that exceed 50 micrograms of OC per litre of sea water. This research has also found that because of the way that corals react with OC (converting it into fatty acids), current estimates for the concentration levels of OC in our oceans might have been severely underestimated.

An audio version of this poem can be heard here:

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