Sunday, April 29, 2007

'The Burning Issue'

What are the impacts of large forest and peatland fires in South East Asia on coral reefs and coastal ecosystems? The question looks as relevant as ever this year.

David J. Lohman, David Bickford and Navjot S. Sodhi report that fires to clear land in S E Asia in 1998 caused between $4.4 and $7.9bn worth of damage [to terrestrial economic activity, I assume] and released between 0.81 and 2.57 gigatons of carbon (The Burning Issue, Science Vol 316, 20 April).

They write, too, that using fire to clear land has been illegal in Indonesia since 1995, that a zero burning policy was ratified by ASEAN in 1999, but that farmers throughout the region and plantations in Indonesia continue to ignore the ban:
'Solutions to the haze problem are needed before the onset of the dry season in June, as 2007 may be another El NiƱo year. Lessons learned from this catastrophe may help ameliorate similar smoke-haze episodes in Amazonia, Africa, and other parts of Asia.
A message to all readers: please let me know if you have further information, or reference to studies on the impacts of these fires on the marine environment. You can attach a comment on this post or e mail via the contact details given on the complete profile page of this site.

(see also How to destroy a planet)

[P.S. 2 May: plus Climate change lessons in Indonesia]


Anonymous David Bickford said...

Thanks for your interest in our research and the implications of fire and haze might have to the marine environment.

Unfortunately, we did not find any direct effects reported from the haze to marine habitats, although the obvious poisoning of the air and the subsequent run-off has undoubted negative side-effects. The mitigating factor, however, is that tourism (SCUBA diving in this case) is severely reduced, and hence the negative impacts of SCUBA diving tourism (coral breakage, turbidity, pollution, etc.) are also reduced.

I am unsure if there are large enough impacts of haze or fires on coral reefs - enough that someone has studied them and reported on them.

In the supplementary materials for our paper there are many good reviews that mention the decline in tourism and there might be some others that have something about non-terrestrial impacts.

Good luck finding out more about how the haze affects marine habitats. Please let me know if you have any other questions of comments or if you find out more on your own.

Thanks again and all the best from Singapore.

9:22 am  

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