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Stop Releasing Your Balloons Into the Sky

Birds and turtles eat them and die.

Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge

The Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge is a 47,000-plus-acre habitat for migratory birds on the Jersey Shore. Note the “refuge” in its name—it is not supposed to be littered with crumpled balloons and party ribbon.

Yet work crews recently scooped up more than 100 balloons in various states of inflation from the refuge’s marshes and beaches. “Did you ever wonder where your balloons go when they are released?” writes the park on Facebook. “Birds, turtles, and other animals commonly mistake balloons for food which has a detrimental impact on wildlife.”

One commenter thought that’s putting it mildly, so she suggested rather than “sweetly saying ‘which has a detrimental impact on wildlife’ say ‘which slowly and painfully kills turtles and other wildlife.’ Folks will hear the message better if some emotion is attached.”

The Forsythe refuge is an important stop for birds traveling the Atlantic Flyway. It’s a good place to see endangered species such as piping plovers and Peregrine falcons. But it’s not just the Jersey Shore, or birds, that balloons are mucking up. When you let one go, there’s a good chance it’ll find its way to the oceans. They can “travel thousands of miles and pollute the most remote and pristine places,” according to the Environmental Nature Center, and have been found in the stomachs of dolphins, seals, and whales.

Don’t believe it? Look at this turtle with a balloon string coming out of its mouth:

NOAA/Blair Witherington

Or this one, ensnared in ribbons:

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

The environmental group Balloons Blow suggests a number of alternatives to commemorate an event. I would simply ask, do we need them at all?

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.