Grand balloon releases are truly a spectacle to witness – colors filling the sky, balloons floating through the air. They’re often used to mark a celebration and inspire joy for all. However, they’re not uplifting for all parties involved.
As we know, what goes up must come down, and when the balloons make their way back to Earth, 70 percent of the time they end up in one of the world’s oceans. This is bad news for marine life, who unfortunately misidentify deflated balloons as their next meal.
Sea turtles are especially vulnerable to this as they commonly confuse debris for jellyfish. Thinking deflated balloons may be food, they innocently ingest the material, leading to stomach or intestinal blockages and eventual starvation. But the trouble doesn’t end there. Marine animals, as well as birds, often become entangled by the strings or ribbons attached to balloons.
And marine animals certainly don’t need anymore trouble from balloon debris; after all, with 8.8 million tons of plastic making their way from land to the oceans every single year. On whole, 700 marine species are faced with extinction due to the threat plastic poses to them from entanglement, pollution, and ingestion, and considering that 90 percent of the debris that ends up in the oceans comes from land-based sources, we all play a role in this.
Thankfully, the annual balloon release that has taken place in Gibraltar for the past 24 years has come to an end. After calls from activists who recognized the profound impact these balloon releases have on marine life, the organizers of the event and release, The Self Determination for Gibraltar Group, have decided to put it to an end.
In a statement, they said: “Over the years … the release of balloons as part of the festivities has become an important part of the day. Seeing the red and white balloons floating in the sky has evoked passion and sentiment in a huge number of Gibraltarians as the symbolic representation of our freedom. There has nevertheless been a growing number of credible national and international organizations and people who, in particular over the last few years, have highlighted that releasing helium-filled balloons is likely to be harmful to the environment and animals.”
We’re so inspired by the activists and organizers who recognized the impact of their actions, and decided to make a change – even if that meant changing a tradition. While releasing balloons into the air happens in a matter of seconds, the impacts are long-lasting, and often life-threatening for the animals we need to protect.
Looking for earth-friendly alternatives? Check out these tips from Balloons Blow:
If you’re looking to remember someone or something, planting a memorial tree or garden is a great way to go about it.
If the feeling of releasing something is what you are seeking, blowing bubbles is an equally satisfying option. Or, try tossing a few native flowers into a flowing stream and watch them be carried away.
What Else Can YOU Do?
While efforts are being made to remove debris from the oceans, improve recycling systems, and innovate barriers to prevent trash from getting into waterways, we can all take action in our daily lives to stop plastic and other forms of waste at the source. Plastic may be one of the most prevalent forms of waste that ends up in the oceans, but we all have the power to crush it.
Let’s #CrushPlastic! Click the graphic below for more information.
Image Source: Mark Attard/Alamy