[SUSTAINABILITY & ETHICS] Cooley’s research: snorkeling, sharks, & sunscreen


Photo Submitted: Linnea Cooley

Cooley channels her passion for marine biology by attending several summer camps and seminars about the animals beneath the surface.

“The one thing I’ve never liked are dolphins. I do not like dolphins; they are the frat boys of the ocean,” junior Linnea Cooley said.
Cooley is passionate and opinionated about all living things underneath the ocean’s surface. It all started in fifth grade when she got glasses. Her family usually went to Hawaii during spring breaks, and Cooley would go snorkeling. She hated it because they couldn’t see anything underwater. “And then in fifth grade, we were in Hawaii, and I got prescription goggles, and we went snorkeling, and I could see the fish, and it was amazing. And I had decided from that day on that I wanted to study marine biology,” they said.
Six years later, Cooley is now researching to determine the environmental impact these animals face due to humans’ actions. Cooley said, “I’m looking at the effect of chemical sunscreens on freshwater primary producers. The chemical I’m looking at is octocrylene, and that’s in a lot of chemical sunscreens, and then I’m looking at its effect on Cyclotella Meneghiniana, which is a freshwater diatom.”
Primary producers such as plants and algae produce organic compounds from light energy, or in other words, they get energy from the sun. Diatoms are single-celled algae. Cyclotella Meneghiniana is a species of algae common in shallow and nutrient-rich waters. Cooley said, “[Diatoms] produce a lot of the oxygen in the atmosphere. I think they produce more than rainforests do. And they have glass shells. There’s a lot of cool diatom art online because, under a microscope, they sound a little bit like little snowflakes. They’re rich in lipids, so they’re really good for stuff to eat. They’re pretty cool.”
The Environmental Working Group said that octocrylene can cause an increase in skin allergies and is linked to aquatic toxicity, which harms coral reefs and other organisms. “In saltwater environments like Hawaii, they already have regulations on [octocrylene concentrations] because it’s been proven that it harms corals, but it hasn’t really been explored in freshwater,” Cooley said.
Currently, Cooley is obsessed with sharks. She said, “I think they’re adorable and misunderstood. […] They’re also very important keystone predators. So shark conservation is really, really important, but since a lot of people are scared of them, they don’t get the same protection as turtles. […] The one thing I’ve never liked is dolphins. I do not like dolphins. They are the frat boys of the ocean. They suck. You should like sharks instead.”
The one thing that Cooley says everyone should do to help protect the environment and keep marine habitats safe and healthy is not to wear chemical sunscreen. If you’re near the ocean, wear reef-safe sunscreen, which means mineral sunscreen. She said that the only two types of mineral sunscreen that are actually mineral safe are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide sunscreen. They said, “I know mineral sunscreen is more annoying, and it’s pasty white, and you don’t get the sprays, but it is actually better for you and the environment. It’s effective immediately, whereas chemical sunscreen washes off, and it actually takes a while to activate. So it’s just a better choice.”
Sunscreen seeps into the skin and your body some amount of the chemicals. Mineral sunscreen, however, merely sits on the skin to block the sun. Follow Cooley’s recommendation for mineral sunscreen and passion for marine biology to create a healthier ecosystem underneath the water’s surface.