Do you love wildlife and the beach? If you do there’s one thing to remember when it comes to balloons and sky lanterns – Don’t Let Go. What goes up must come down – and when it does balloon litter can be fatal to wildlife.
Whether it’s Christmas, a fun occasion or a memorial event, please think again before organising balloon and sky lantern releases.
From charity releases to memorial events, letting hundreds, sometimes thousands of balloons and lanterns into the sky has become common practice up and down the country. But stunning and poignant as these releases may look as they go up, the results on the marine environment can be devastating when they come down.
Balloons and Sky Lanterns – Don’t Let Go
The campaign against balloon and sky lantern releases has stepped up over the years, particularly since the Blue Planet effect.
Volunteers with the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) found an increase of over 50% in the amount of balloon litter on UK beaches between 2015 and 2016. No doubt it has gone up since then.
Tragic consequences on land…
You might have seen tragic incidents on TV and social media of horses and cattle which have died after choking balloon and sky lantern litter on land.
The National Farmers Union, RSPB and RSPCA are also keen to see a reduction in releases. Livestock have been killed from eating broken up lanterns which are accidentally picked up by harvesting machinery and put into winter feeds. In 2010 a Cheshire farmer lost one of his pedigree cattle worth £1,000 after it died from eating the wire frame from a lantern.
Even biodegradable eco-friendly lanterns pose a serious risk to livestock. The bamboo frames can be chopped up during the silage and hay making period and may be ingested by livestock at a later date causing serious internal damage.
And in the marine environment…
On beaches and in the sea, balloons, strings, lanterns and frames can have long-lasting effects, such as choking, entanglement and litter hazards. Lanterns floating over the sea have also been mistaken for distress flares and resulted in false alarm call outs of coastguard staff.
The wrong kind of meal
Along with choking and entanglement, marine wildlife eat the plastic debris, believing it to be food. A turtle (or other animal) searching for food may mistake a deflated balloon for a jellyfish and swallow it up.
The problem is the balloon will block the turtle’s digestive system and lead to starvation and eventually death. With a stomach full of rubbish which they can’t digest the animal then starves to death. As the plastics break up into increasingly smaller pieces, there’s a real risk of it entering the food chain.
Please don’t release balloons and sky lanterns
MCS wants to see all intentional balloon releases stopped.
The ‘Don’t Let Go’ campaign is promoted by the Marine Conservation Society. At a local level the organisation and campaigners persuade councils to ban the release of both balloons and sky lanterns on their land.
A growing list of UK local authorities have agreed to implement a ban on balloon and lantern releases on their land. Sadly, none of the local councils here on the Fylde Coast have joined the list yet. You can find out which councils have banned balloon releases here.
Banning balloon and sky lantern releases is a view supported by local beach care charity Rossall Beach Residents & Community Group. Volunteers regularly pick up balloon debris and string from their beach at Cleveleys.
Emma Cunningham is the MCS Pollution Campaigns Officer: “There’s an awful lot of confusion over balloons, especially what they’re made of and how they break down. Some people believe that because latex is natural, balloons made of it are harmless once let go.
“This just isn’t the case. Latex may last for up to four years in the marine environment. The latest research also shows that only around 13% of balloons burst into small pieces whilst more than 80% come down intact. This could explain the rise in balloon litter levels we have seen on beaches, which will have a great impact on wildlife.”
It’s common to see people paying tribute to loved ones on the beaches of the Fylde Coast. Families gather to scatter ashes at the edge of the tideline, sharing their grief and knowing that their loved one rests in their happy place.
If you are planning to commemorate someone’s life in this way, please don’t release balloons. You could blow bubbles, throw confetti to the wind or place unwrapped real flowers in the water instead.
Pledge your Support
Find out what you can do to support a local ban on balloon and lantern releases in your council area.
Join Rossall Beach Residents & Community Group and make a difference to a local beach
Balloons and Sky Lanterns – the Facts
Balloons are made of either latex (rubber) or foil (also known as mylar).
Latex balloons, whilst biodegradable, may still persist in the marine environment for up to four years.
There are already bans on balloon releases in place in New South Wales and Queensland in Australia and Florida, Virginia, Connecticut, Tennessee, Texas and California in the US.
Helium is the gas used to fill balloons to make them go up and balloons made of latex are often referred to as helium balloons
Helium is running out…even more reason to conserve what stocks we have left and not waste it on a few seconds of enjoyment.
The metal sky lantern frame is dangerous to wildlife and poses an entanglement threat.
In 2010 it was reported that a Cheshire farmer lost one of his pedigree cattle worth £1,000 after it died from eating the wire frame from a lantern.
Lanterns also pose a fire hazard to crops in summer months. In 2013 £6m of damage was caused at a recycling plant in Smethwick, Birmingham after a lantern landed and sparked a blaze.
It’s illegal to launch a sky lantern in most parts of Germany, Malta, Vietnam and Spain. In Austria it’s illegal to produce, sell, import, or to distribute them.
A permanent ban on sky lanterns that “rely on an open flame to heat the air inside the lantern” was introduced in Australia on 1 February 2011.
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