Balloon release

Balloon release bans are spreading throughout the state.

Alex Anton

On March 30, 1987 the Showboat Casino in Atlantic City opened its doors for business. To celebrate its grand opening, thousands of helium balloons were released into the air. As the balloons rose, adding excitement to the festive occasion, the prevailing winds carried them high into the sky and out over the ocean. For weeks afterwards, hundreds of balloons were seen floating on the ocean, many picked up by boaters. We will never know the amount of damage these balloons may have caused to marine life like dolphins, whales and turtles. What we do know is that for a few moments of excitement, there were months that a hazardous condition existed for marine life.

Intentional mass balloon release, no matter how well intended, has far reaching consequences. In the ocean, balloons or pieces of balloons resemble jellyfish, a common food for marine animals. When eaten, the material gets lodged in the digestive tract, making it unable to digest its food and the animal slowly starves to death.

Recently, the cities of Margate, Ventnor, Longport, Atlantic City, Brigantine and now Somers Point have taken action and placed an ordinance on their books to prohibit the mass release of balloons.

New Jersey Senator Jim Whalen (D-2), a shore town resident, knows all too well the problems of ocean debris and the importance of protecting the marine environment. He’s noticed the number of towns that have created ordinances and he’s decided to take it a step farther.

Whelan has proposed Bill S-3177, which will make it illegal for anyone in New Jersey to purposely release helium balloons into the air. Scientific research and weather balloons are the exception.

Sustainable Jersey, the Surfrider Foundation South Jersey Chapter, Marine Mammal Stranding Center and many other organizations feel that prohibiting the mass release of helium balloons is a responsible thing to do to protect our resources. We urge everyone to inform his or her senators to endorse Whelan’s bill.

There are some advocates who insist that latex balloons are safe. Because they are made of latex, a natural product made from the rubber tree, we are told they will break down to an environmentally safe level. However, for the months it takes for the product to break down it still poses a high risk for hungry animals.

Sustainable Downbeach is working toward creating a healthier, friendlier community with an eye on protecting the environment. For information or to get involved see Sustainable Downbeach on Facebook.

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