ASEAN — Researchers say that there is an urgent need to understand the impact of haze on Southeast Asian marine ecosystems and implement a coordinated response plan for their effective management.
The unprecedented levels of transboundary haze in Southeast Asia last year prompted Dr Zeehan Jaafar, a lecturer at the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore Faculty of Science, and Dr Loh Tse-Lynn, a postdoctoral research associate at the Daniel P. Haerther Center for Conservation and Research, John G. Shedd Aquarium (Chicago, USA), to critically evaluate the potential impacts of biomass burning and haze on marine ecosystems.
Crop residue and forests in many tropical countries are burnt to clear land for agriculture. In Indonesia, annual biomass burning activities cause a widespread smoke-haze phenomenon that affects human health, quality of life and incomes locally and in neighboring countries. While the impacts of these large-scale burning on terrestrial and atmospheric habitats are immediate and obvious, little is known about how adjacent coastal ecosystems such as coral reefs, seagrass and mangroves are affected.
Marine ecosystems of Southeast Asia are global hotspots for biodiversity and support many species unique to the region. Natural resources derived from these areas sustain local economies and meet global demands. Yet, many marine ecosystems in this region are over-exploited and highly threatened.
The reduction in sunlight from the haze, and the mass deposition of particulates from forest fires into coastal habitats are likely to have a negative impact on these marine ecosystems. Interactions between these primary impacts are likely to further damage these already imperiled ecosystems.
Land, air and sea are highly interconnected. Being aware of both direct and indirect impacts to marine habitats help us safeguard these natural resources, said Loh.
In the paper, Jaafar and Loh call upon scientific institutions, non-governmental agencies, government bodies and policy-makers in the region to recognize the importance of the haze as an additional stressor to marine environments. In addition, they proposed a coordinated regional response plan for monitoring and studying the impacts of burning and haze to marine ecosystems.