Haze can cause damage to ocean coral too

The serious air pollution cause by land fire in Indonesia is choking its neighbour. This land based pollution is spread through the air, especially the fine particle of PM2.5, it normally cause serious respiratory health problem, security trouble due to low visibility, reduce the crop production, lost in the tourism, etc., where most of the damage we can think of is on the land and air. However, haze can cause serious damage to the coral in the ocean too.

Yes, ocean, but how the air pollution damage the ocean coral? It sounds like if we have a flu, the virus that spread through the air will affect the Arowana in your aquarium, where your arowana will be sick from your flu too.

The story went back to 1997 haze incident, this was one of the most serious haze episode in the history. The highest Air Pollution Index recorded is 839 at Kuching, where the Malaysian government announced the first State of Emergency due to haze. The dry condition in the Southeast Asia during 1997-98 was directly related to the strongest El-Nino and Indian Ocean Dipole (The Indian Ocean ENSO).

A scientific paper published in Science in 2003 (DOI: 10.1126/science.1083841), reveal the secret connection between the haze and the coral damage in the Mentawi Island in West Sumatra. During the 1997 haze, this area was blanketed by thick haze from the wild fire. The haze and the Positive Indian Dipole have triggered a giant red tide (phytoplankton bloom) that cause the coral damage that stretch 400km. The damage was so severe that most of the coral was damaged by this red tide, that not even fully recovers after several years.

guam coral

How serious was this Giant Red Tide?

One of the Indonesian researcher that survey the area told me that when he dive into the water of the red tide, it was so dark that he couldn’t even see his finger in front. This thick red tide has covered the large area for weeks, blocking the sunlight to reach the ocean floor, thus causing the destruction of the coral that locate at the ocean floor.

Why the haze can trigger this giant red tide?

The haze particle is originate from forest  and land burning, their small particles consist of some essential nutrient, such as iron for the phytoplankton growth in the ocean. When the haze covering the area of the Mentawi, some of the iron from the haze dissolve into the ocean water. Together with the nutrient rich upwelling water, the phytoplankton growth into great numbers. The giant red tide extended a few hundreds kilometer at the Mentawi Island.

The scientists from Australia concluded that

Widespread tropical wildfire is a recent phenomenon, the magnitude and frequency of which are increasing as population rises and terrestrial biomass continues to be disrupted. Where background nutrient supplies in reef waters are elevated or human activities have reduced upper trophic levels, reefs are likely to become increasingly susceptible to large algal blooms triggered by episodic nutrient enrichment from wildfires. Therefore, in addition to their impact on forest ecology and human health, tropical wildfires may pose a new threat to coastal marine ecosystems that could escalate into the 21st century.” – Abram et al., 2003



during the June 2013 haze episode