By Cheryl Conley, TWRC Wildlife Center
I can remember in grade school how we all attached notes to balloons before letting them go in hopes that the balloon would be found by someone far, far away. It was exciting to think that maybe someone from New York or California would find it and contact me. It never happened. I’ve been to weddings and graduations where helium balloons were let go as part of the celebration. What I didn’t know is the enormous amount of damage these balloons can do to our environment. I know now. If you think about it, helium balloons are nothing more than floating litter. Would you throw a deflated balloon with string on the ground? Most people would not. It makes for ugly trash especially on our beaches.
According to an article in February of this year on the Huffington Post website, balloons are among the top 3 most harmful pollutants threatening marine wildlife but they also harm domestic animals such as cattle, dogs and sheep.
Seabirds are most at risk. Deflated balloons are mistaken for jellyfish or squid and are eaten by the birds. Not able to digest the balloon, it will clog the bird’s stomach and the bird will eventually die of starvation. Choking is also a threat.
The ribbons or strings that are attached to the balloon are a hazard to birds because they can become entangled in them when the balloon lands in a tree. They may also use the materials to build a nest causing a risk factor for the hatchlings.
In its natural state, latex is biodegradable but when processed for balloons and treated with chemicals, plasticizers and dyes, it can no longer be classified as natural. It can take a balloon from 6 months to 4 years to decompose. Think of the damage it can cause in that time. Shiny mylar balloons can take even longer.
How can you help? Explain the dangers of releasing helium balloons to your children. Don’t plan balloon releases at any of your celebrations and if you know of someone who is planning this, please discourage them from doing so.
TWRC Wildlife Center is a non-profit organization located in Houston. We provide emergency care for Texas wildlife and offer educational and training programs for adults and children focused on wildlife and the environment. Your donations are greatly appreciated. www.twrcwildlifecenter.org