Study the haze impact on marine ecosystems

14 Oct 2014 NUS scientist calls attention to haze impacts on threatened marine ecosystems and proposes coordinated response plan to study and manage these impacts.

Dr Zeehan JAAFAR from the Department of Biological Sciences in NUS together with Dr LOH Tse-Lynn (Daniel P Haerther Center for Conservation and Research, Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, USA) decided to critically evaluate the potential impacts of large-scale biomass burning and haze on marine ecosystems due to unprecedented high levels of transboundary haze in Southeast Asia in 2013. Crop residue and forests are burnt in many tropical countries to clear land for agriculture. Using the Southeast Asian Haze phenomenon as a focal model, key primary and potential cascading impacts on marine habitats as a direct result of burning and haze were identified: nutrient enrichment from terrestrial and atmospheric inputs, sediment loading, reduction in photosynthetically active radiation, and decrease in air visibility (see Figure).

Annual burning causes regional haze phenomenon that in turn negatively affects human health, quality of life, and the ability to generate income. Impacts of large-scale burning on terrestrial and atmospheric ecosystems are immediate and obvious. In contrast, little is known of the affect of these events on the vast and open marine systems. Marine areas of Southeast Asia are global hotspots for biodiversity, support high levels of endemism, and are valuable shared natural resources. Yet, many regional marine ecosystems are over-exploited and highly threatened. Identifying primary impacts will allow us to concentrate efforts to mitigate the resultant interacting and cascading impacts on already imperiled ecosystems.

Drs. Jaafar and Loh recommend collaborations between governments, non-government organizations and scientific institutions to gather and share baseline information, and to set up long-term regional monitoring systems. A regional coordinated response protocol was proposed for future dire haze events, which included: an early warning system; intensification of regional monitoring and assessment of impacts; and management interventions such as temporary closure of marine parks.


Corals at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, Singapore, during a haze event. (Image credit: Ria TAN)


Jaafar Z, Loh TL. "Linking land, air and sea: potential impacts of biomass burning and the resultant haze on marine ecosystems of Southeast Asia." Global Change Biology. 20 (2014) 2701.