Saving the reefs: Sunscreen exchange today at Richardson Ocean Park

  • Courtesy of Jennifer Kamimura
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Hilo High School junior Jennifer Kamimura, 17, and other students will host a community sunscreen exchange day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at Richardson Ocean Park.

An extra credit project is doing its part to save the reefs — and the community can pitch in, too.

Hilo High students will host a community sunscreen exchange from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at Richardson Ocean Park.

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The event aims to educate the community about the harmful effects side effects of certain sunscreen ingredients on Hawaii’s coral reefs and those who attend can also exchange sunscreen products containing oxybenzone, octinoxate, avobenzone, octocrylene or octisalate for samples of eco-friendly sunscreen.

The effort began as an AP environmental science class extra credit project, spearheaded by junior Jennifer Kamimura.

“Every quarter we have the opportunity to do a ‘Step-Up’ project,’ where we can earn extra credit points, so my goal was to just do this whole sunscreen process throughout the year,” said Kamimura, 17.

The first quarter was spent planning and Kamimura said she received a $300 grant from the Kupu Foundation last fall, money that was used to advertise and get incentives.

In March, she did a schoolwide sunscreen exchange day.

“So my goal was to raise awareness about the importance of using eco-friendly sunscreen that does not contain the five main chemicals that have been found to be the main causes of coral reef bleaching,” Kamimura said. “… So the students at Hilo High could bring in their sunscreens that had those ingredients in it in exchange for some eco-friendly sunscreen samples.”

More than 80 students in attendance were educated on the matter and received incentives for taking a mini quiz, something Kamimura said will be offered today as well.

It was a “pretty good turn out,” and Kamimura said she was glad to see teachers participate in the exchange as well. Today’s community exchange will be similar, she said.

“So our goal is to just educate as many people as we can.”

Kamimura said her family is “super involved with the ocean,” and she used to snorkel at the Waiopae tidepools in Kapoho, which were lost to lava during last year’s eruption of Kilauea volcano in lower Puna.

“The ocean was always like a passion of mine, a big interest,” she said. “So when my mom started to talk to me like ‘oh, this is what’s happening with the coral reefs’ and about all the bleaching and how much of our beautiful reefs are gone, that’s where I got my inspiration from.”

Kamimura said she’s hoping for a big turnout. Her goal is 150 people.

“I’d really appreciate a lot of people coming because Hawaii is such a beautiful place and our oceans are obviously a major part of our environment and we just want to do everything we can to preserve it all.”

Environmental science teacher Maud Gooch said many students participating in “Step Up,” an extra credit assignment that’s student-initiated, do beach clean-ups, attend lectures at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and attend community events like feeding the homeless.

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“This year, Jennifer Kamimura went above and beyond,” she said. “… I only maybe signed some papers being her teacher. I so see Jennifer Kamimura being an advocate for our community and one I am so proud of. Often as a teacher you wonder how a student will do after high school. You may never see them again, but no, I will see Jennifer in our Hilo community, a contributing community member.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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