Hoping to clear the ocean of a coral-killing ingredient found in sunblock, researchers have developed a biodegradable bead with sponge-like qualities to absorb the chemical.

Presenting their work at the 254th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), researchers believe the bead will help clean up the ocean water at beaches where the skin-cancer fighting ingredient—oxybenzone—appears in higher concentrations.

"Coral bleaching by oxybenzone is a difficult problem, but not an impossible one," says Felix R. Roman, Ph.D. "Our magnetite nanoparticles are magnetic, and we can make them specific to a particular pollutant—in this case oxybenzone—by altering the surface chemistry of these particles. But you don't want to release loose nanoparticles into the environment, so we encapsulate them in a matrix that is environmentally friendly and cheap. The idea is that if you dump it in water, you can pull it out with a magnet."

To see how the biodegradable bead—made up of ingredients familiar to the ocean such as alginate (from algae) and chitosan (a fish waste product)—works, watch the accompanying video.