Please stop releasing balloons

*Warning: the following article contains sensitive pictures that may upset some readers.*

 Katie Cline, Editor-in-Chief

Every year, hundreds of well-meaning groups and organizations across the nation use balloon releases to honor lost loved ones, celebrate survivors and announce funds that have been raised. But sometimes these “well-meaning” gestures overshadow the bigger issue: balloons are bad for the environment, and our “celebrations” often damage an already fragile ecosystem. Why do we, a college of forward-thinking young adults, still let this happen?

The cheap, latex balloons usually used for these releases are not biodegradable, meaning that after they float out of sight, they come back down to Earth…and stay there. Often times, they get washed into rivers, lakes, ponds and oceans, and they can seriously harm or kill native wildlife, particularly turtles and sea birds.

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A seagull hangs from a telephone wire after getting tangled in a balloon string (photo by Pamela Denmon,U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services().

One of a sea turtle’s food sources is jellyfish, and, to a turtle, balloons floating on the surface look like jellyfish. If a turtle eats one of these balloons, it can get stuck in its throat and keep the turtle from eating, causing it to slowly starve to death.

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A dead Kemp’s-Ridley’s sea turtle lies on a beach after choking on a balloon (photo via the USFWS Eastern Shore of VA and Fisherman Island NWR).

For birds, the danger comes while the balloons are still in the air. Sea birds like gulls and pelicans can get tangled in balloon strings while flying, and those strings can get tangled in trees or power lines and essentially hang the bird.

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A seabird lies dead after its neck became entangled in the string of a balloon (photo via the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Program).

It’s true that Jacksonville is miles from the nearest beach, but we still have local lakes and creeks that attract water fowl. We still have fish and turtles that could eat a stray balloon. And distance doesn’t always limit impact. It’s like they say in “Finding Nemo”: “All drains [and, in this case, streams] lead to the ocean.” It’s not impossible for a balloon released in Jacksonville, Ala. to end up in the Gulf of Mexico.

I am the daughter of a biologist. I’ve lived my entire life knowing the dangers plastics and pollutants to the environment. It’s something that’s always on my mind. So it hurts me to see people disregard the impact they have on the environment for the sake of cute pictures. Surely there are better ways to make your point known. How much good are you really doing if you support a charity but harm the environment? And it especially makes me sad to see this kind of disregard and apathy on a college campus, where we’re supposed to be learning and growing and making the world a better place.

Milestones deserve acknowledgement. Life deserves celebrating. Accomplishments deserve recognition. But all of these amazing things are dulled by the unnecessary disrespect shown to the environment. So, could we please come up with a better way?

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, things aren’t going to get better. They’re not.” – Dr. Suess, The Lorax

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