New microbeads concept could actually benefit oceans

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In Puerto Rico, a university chemistry lab is working to create microbeads out of algae, chitosan, and  iron that could remediate harmful sunscreen chemicals that are damaging fragile coral reefs.

Studies have shown that small amounts of oxybenzone, a common, UV-blocking component of sunscreen, can stunt growth of coral reefs. There are currently efforts underway to ban the chemical in Hawaii.

Felix Roman, a chemistry professor at the University of Puerto Rico, along with graduate student Victor Fernandez, have proposed creating microbeads from a biodegradable mix of algae; chitosan, a byproduct of shrimp and lobster; and iron nanoparticles. The algae and chitosan would be modified to target and retain oxybenzone specifically, while the iron would allow the particles to be collected with magnets.

“After a long day of people going to the beach, in the area of the coral reefs that you want to protect, you could have these beads dumped or dragged around with a boat,” Roman says.