On Wednesday, the Bryan County News had a front page article covering the mass balloon release in Liberty County in memory of victims of child abuse and to bring public attention to an indescribably serious problem that exists throughout our society. The subject of child abuse is certainly one that needs immeasurably more public attention, but mass balloon releases are an inadvisable thing to do.
When contacted by my wife, Peach Hubbard, a representative for Liberty County assured us that balloon releases were considered a national symbol in the fight against child abuse and that their release was with ecofriendly balloons, being biodegradable and without the strings of ribbons attached. According to the spokesperson for Liberty County, their “litter control and conservation awareness agency tracked the balloons so they can be disposed of during a community clean-up planned later this month.” They tracked 400 balloons?!
The spokesperson referred us to a website produced by balloon manufacturers attesting to the environmental safety of mass balloon releases. We certainly applaud the efforts of Liberty County to maintain an environmentally friendly mass balloon release. But unfortunately there is no such thing, regardless of what the balloon manufacturers say.
Environmentally damaging balloon releases are not so much a national symbol in the fight against child abuse as simply an all too common occurrence that needs more careful consideration. Pin Wheels and Blue Ribbon are nationally accepted symbols of the fight against child abuse. Look it up. As a matter of fact, there are several states that have made it illegal to have mass balloon releases. That is something that perhaps Bryan County, as a shoreline community, should consider as a county ordinance. At the very least a note to all school principals might help.
The facts are this: What goes up must come down. Bio-degradable balloons, as per the manufacturer’s description, take months to do so. During that period, they are a serious hazard to some marine life. A collapsed balloon floating in the water looks very much like a jelly fish, a favorite food of our endangered sea turtles that will soon be coming ashore on our islands to lay their eggs. Ingested balloons can spell a miserable death for a turtle. Atlantic bottlenose dolphin also like to eat jelly fish as would any baleen feeding marine mammal. They ingest shrunken balloons with the same fatal results. We don’t have any baleen feeders around here but mass balloon releases are a national problem.
Our prevailing westerly winds will certainly insure that a good number of the 400 balloons from Liberty County are likely to find their way into our waters. Peach and I have personally stood on Wassaw Island and watched a dozen balloons float across part of Ossabaw Sound and come to rest in the water along the Wassaw beach. Apparently there had been a big birthday party that afternoon somewhere on the mainland.
Liberty County did the research to a point where they understood that a bio-degradable balloon appeared to be acceptable. After all, that is what the manufacturer said. I appreciate the efforts made by the balloon manufacturers with the introduction of “biodegradable” balloons. However, assuming that they really are biodegradable in an acceptable time frame, that does not mean they are water soluble. They will still hang around, pardon the pun, long enough to do some damage to our environment and our wildlife.
It is an indisputable, amply documented argument that helium filled balloons, when miss-handled, are a danger to our environment. Releasing them into the air is miss-handling. Any message other than that is simply marketing and sales, a failure to understand the problem or a refusal to accept it.
Liberty County also recognized the danger of dangling ribbons and chose not to decorate the balloons. Unfortunately that is generally not the case with most mass balloon releases. There are endless accounts of shore birds, all of which are endangered with the exception of the common gull, becoming entangled in the ribbon clusters with the result being a slow and painful death.
We are already in very serious trouble with the growing mountains of trash in our oceans with most of it being plastic or petroleum products. The “plastic ocean” in the Pacific is now larger than two of the entire United States. Four hundred balloons in Liberty County is nothing to the thousands of balloons being regularly released in memory of, or to call attention to, some particular issue or problem or tragedy.
Have a party. Decorate with balloons. Dispose of them properly.
Want to know more? Visit www.balloonsblow.org.
An 8-year-old girl in Roswell Georgia got it right. She has a petition to make mass balloon releases in Georgia illegal. Read her take on it. Talk about common sense! Go to www.change.org/petitions/georgia-politicians-make-mass-balloon-releases-illegal. Sign her petition.
Hubbard, a self-described “environmental wacko,” lives in Richmond Hill.