A colony of the soft coral known as the "bent sea rod" stands bleached on a reef off of Islamorada, Florida. Hard and soft corals are presently bleaching- losing their symbiotic algae Ð all over the coral reefs of the Florida Keys due to unusually warm ocean temperatures this summer. Months with waters warmer than 85 F have become more frequent in the last several decades compared to a century ago, stressing and in some cases killing corals when temperatures remain high for too long. TUESDAY, APRIL 12, 2016
PHOTO: Kelsey Roberts/USGS
A colony of the soft coral known as the "bent sea rod" stands bleached on a reef off of Islamorada, Florida. Hard and soft corals are presently bleaching- losing their symbiotic algae Ð all over the coral reefs of the Florida Keys due to unusually warm ocean temperatures this summer. Months with waters warmer than 85 F have become more frequent in the last several decades compared to a century ago, stressing and in some cases killing corals when temperatures remain high for too long. TUESDAY, APRIL 12, 2016
Now playing
01:56
Why you shouldn't wear certain sunscreens
PHOTO: Wes Little/CNN
Now playing
01:36
Vieques, Puerto Rico: A wild Caribbean escape
South Beach Miami
PHOTO: Shutterstock
South Beach Miami
Now playing
01:04
Fall in love with Miami in 60 seconds
PHOTO: Fabrizio Costantini for CNN
Now playing
02:26
This is so much better than Cancún
Soneva Jani Maldives_00004925.jpg
Soneva Jani Maldives_00004925.jpg
Now playing
02:30
Inside one of the Maldives' priciest resorts
PHOTO: courtesy Hurawalhi
Now playing
02:52
Hurawalhi Maldives underwater restaurant
Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru Marine Discovery Centre
PHOTO: Karla Cripps/CNN
Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru Marine Discovery Centre
Now playing
04:41
There's a way to rehabilitate turtles
PHOTO: Conrad Hotels & Resorts
Now playing
01:00
World's first underwater hotel residence opens
PHOTO: Trans Maldivian Airways
Now playing
02:31
Flying with the barefoot pilots of the Maldives
Tourists pose for photographs as an airplane descends into Phuket International Airport.
PHOTO: Karla Cripps/CNN
Tourists pose for photographs as an airplane descends into Phuket International Airport.
Now playing
01:49
Mai Khao: Phuket's plane spotting beach
Hotel Maya
PHOTO: Facebook/Hotel Maya
Hotel Maya
Now playing
01:23
Fall in love with Long Beach, California
Now playing
04:58
This Greek village was once run by women
PHOTO: Courtesy of Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach
Now playing
01:33
Experience the beach and more in Fort Lauderdale
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
03:31
This sleepy Caribbean island is ready for you
PHOTO: ©2013 Matteo Colombo
Now playing
01:30
The stars of Australia's Bondi Beach
(CNN) —  

Key West, Florida, has voted to ban certain sunscreens in an effort to protect coral reefs in its surrounding waters.

The city joins a growing list of places that have banned sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. The Pacific nation of Palau and the state of Hawaii both passed similar bans last year.

The two particular sunscreen ingredients are FDA-approved and help protect skin against damage from ultraviolet rays. So far, there’s been no conclusive evidence to suggest the chemicals pose risks to humans.

There is a growing body of evidence, however, that suggests those sunscreen ingredients cause coral bleaching and other toxic effects to marine ecosystems when sunscreens worn by beachgoers wash off in the shower or in the water.

“To me, it boils right down to the fact that there are thousands of sunscreens out there and we have one reef,” Mayor Teri Johnston said at a city commission meeting on Tuesday night. “And we have an opportunity to do one small thing to protect that. I believe it’s our obligation.”

Key West’s ban will take effect on January 1, 2021, the same day Hawaii’s ban is set to kick in. Both bans affect many popular sunscreen brands, including La Roche-Posay Face & Body Anthelios 60 Melt-In Sunscreen Milk, Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50 and Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch sunscreens.

First-time violations of Key West’s ban will result in a written warning. After that, violations will follow the city’s standard civil citation procedures.

The motion passed 6-1 in a Key West city commission meeting to rousing applause and cheers. The discussion on the proposed ban lasted more than two hours, with many Key West residents and activists from the environmental nonprofit organization Reef Relief giving speeches in support of the ban.

Colonies of coral that have lost their symbiotic algae, or bleached, on a reef off of Islamorada, Florida.
PHOTO: Kelsey Roberts/USGS
Colonies of coral that have lost their symbiotic algae, or bleached, on a reef off of Islamorada, Florida.

But not everyone was on board.

Officials from the sunscreen manufacturing industry voiced their opposition, citing public health concerns. They also disputed the extent to which chemicals in sunscreens are thought to affect coral reefs.

In a letter to the city commission before the meeting, Carlos Gutierrez, vice president of state and local government affairs for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, cited an article that said the evidence that sunscreens cause coral bleaching is inconclusive.

“For CHPA, this issue is about public health,” the statement read. “The stakes are far too high to rush into this product ban, especially when there are no proven benefits to coral reef if you go forward with the ban.”

Lezlee Westine, the president and CEO of the Personal Care Products Council, voiced similar opposition in a letter to the commission.

“Ordinance File #18-3253, although well intended, lacks the necessary scientific evidence to demonstrate that these sunscreen ingredients are responsible for coral bleaching,” the letter from the council read. “We fear this legislation will create confusion, put consumers’ health at risk and potentially discourage the use of sunscreens – an important part of a safe sun regimen.”

A reef with little living coral and extensive bioerosion in the Florida Keys.
PHOTO: Ilsa Kuffner/USGS.
A reef with little living coral and extensive bioerosion in the Florida Keys.

The coral reefs are vital to Key West. The Florida Reef Tract is a major part of the state’s fishing and tourism industries. The reef system is home to more than 6,000 species of plants, fish and aquatic life, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that species supported by reefs are key to finding new medicines. Reefs also prevent erosion on shorelines that could cause property damage or deaths.

Johnston said at the meeting that she believes Key West’s ban will help educate people about the ingredients in the sunscreens they purchase.

“After a bold statement from this commission that we ban these two ingredients, there’s not going to be one person who goes into that CVS that doesn’t flip it over and take a look at the ingredients, and then make a personal decision on how they want to handle their sunscreen protection.”