29 July 2021

What goes up must come down!

 

Boomerang Alliance and Wildlife Queensland oppose any release of helium and other lighter-than-air balloons.

 

The impact of balloons on litter, marine and terrestrial wildlife, and farm animals is well recognised and documented in the scientific and marine pollution prevention communities. Sadly, many individuals fail to realise that releasing helium-filled balloons has dire consequences for native wildlife.

Balloons fracture and burst in the air, and when their remnants, strings and ribbons fall back to earth or into coastal waters, the fragments entangle wildlife or are mistaken for food and consumed.

From 2013–2016, beach clean-ups removed 22,504 balloons (whole, burst and remnant) from Australian beaches. 

 

In all States and Territories, the deliberate release of helium balloons is considered littering. Unfortunately, authorities in many states still turn a blind eye to balloon releases at commercial and public events and commemorations, and littering penalties are rarely enforced. This is, therefore, an ineffective way to stop balloon releases.

 

Balloons, they’re not fun … they’re fatal

A 2019 study by Roman et al. found that ingesting balloon debris was 32 times more likely to end in death for wildlife than eating hard plastic. It also identified that the animals most likely to consume balloon debris belonged to the order procellariiformes—an avian order that includes already at-risk albatrosses, shearwaters, petrels and storm-petrels. These birds were found to have a 20.4% chance of dying after ingesting just a single item of debris.

 

Marine turtle swimming

Marine turtles accidentally consume balloon debris they mistake for food. Red and orange balloons, which resemble squid, are especially likely to be consumed. Image: InstCaner, Getty /Canva NFP

‘Biodegradable balloons’ are not the solution

Recent research conducted in February of this year found that balloons that purport to be ‘100% biodegradable’ still did not fully break down when tested in saltwater, freshwater or compost.

Earlier research by Dr Kathy Townsend at UQ’s Moreton Bay Research Station on Stradbroke Island found that decomposition took longer in saltwater. That’s very bad news for marine turtles, which are known to ingest pieces of burst balloons, mistaking them for sea jellies or squid.

Wildlife Qld and Boomerang Alliance are calling on all State and Territory governments to:
  • introduce specific laws that ban any release of balloons
  • ban the sale of helium to the public to inflate balloons so that only registered balloon industry suppliers can control the chain of custody and arrange proper disposal.
  • advise all relevant agencies, local government and event/hospitality sectors about the ban and provide adequate policing.

 

We also urge all nature-lovers to join the Boomerang Alliance petition to call on the government to ban helium balloon releases throughout Australia.

 

Blow bubbles, not balloons!

Wildlife Queensland certainly do not intend to be ‘party poopers’. We know kids love balloons, but our aim is to ensure they love our native wildlife more.

Small changes we make can make a big difference when it comes to protecting wildlife from harm, and it is increasingly clear that balloons are killers.

To keep kids enjoying nature-themed fun and outside play, we’ve collaborated with Babysits who’ve created these wonderful eco-friendly and balloon-free craft ideas for kids, including kites, paper-bunting, homemade bubble blowers and pinwheels.

Balloon-free alternatives for commemorations or special occasions are just as visually appealing, including lighting memorial candles, audio-visual displays, musical tributes or planting native trees in someone’s honour.

 

From 20 July 2021, Victoria has banned helium balloon releases. Many other State governments and organisations already suggest alternatives:

 

Clearly, state and federal governments are already aware of the dangers, so it is time to take action and finally ban balloon releases Australia-wide.

 

For more information, download the complete position statement from Boomerang Alliance.

Related articles and information:

 

Written by Wildlifeqld