Are balloons really that bad? One of my daughter's birthday parties was criticized because there were balloons. How can they hurt wildlife?
Balloons are often used to add a pop of colour and fun at birthday parties, weddings, graduations, parades and other celebratory events. Helium balloons can also be released into the sky as a way to honour a loved one’s life. But remember – what goes up must come down. When balloons deflate or pop, they not only become a source of litter but can also be dangerous to wildlife – both on land and in water.
Balloons are being found in lakes and oceans as well as in fields and forests. And helium balloons can travel far when carried by winds and currents, sometimes ending up in remote locations. One article reported that a helium balloon released at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan ended up in Los Angeles – 8,500 kilometres away!
So how do balloons harm wildlife?
Birds can mistake a deflated balloon, or pieces of balloon, for food. Because birds are not able to digest balloons, eating them can result in blockages of the gastrointestinal tract, internal injury, loss of nutrition, starvation and even death.
The string or ribbon that is often attached to balloons can be an additional hazard. Birds and other wildlife can get caught in the string or ribbon, which can prevent or restrict their mobility and their ability to feed.
Balloons can also be hazardous for marine wildlife, such as dolphins, whales and turtles. A floating balloon remarkably resembles a jellyfish – the Leatherback Sea Turtle’s primary food. Again, if eaten, internal injury, starvation and death can occur. The string and ribbon can also be a source of entanglement for marine animals.