What Goes Up, Must Come Down!

Posted Tue, 06/26/2018 - 20:37

The summer is a celebratory time when people gather for graduations, the Fourth of July, weddings, and to enjoy time at the beach. Balloons are often used during these special occasions as decorations and gifts, and are sometimes intentionally released into the air. Unfortunately, once they go up, they must also come down; balloons that are released into the air don’t just go away, they either get snagged on something such as tree branches or electrical wires, deflate and make their way back down, or rise until they pop and fall back to Earth where they can create a lot of problems. Many balloons that are not properly disposed of end up in the ocean and along shores, becoming marine debris. Balloons can be carried by currents and winds, having far reaching impacts. Once balloons enter the ocean, they can become yet another hazard for marine wildlife. Balloons can be mistaken for food, and if eaten and ingested, balloons and other marine debris can lead to loss of nutrition, internal injury, starvation, and death. String or ribbon that is often found attached to balloons can cause entanglement. String can wrap around marine life causing injury, illness, and suffocation.

Researcher holding balloon debris and entangled Albatross.
Researcher holds up balloon debris and entangled baby albatross on Kure Atoll, part of the  Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. (Photo credit: Andy Sullivanhaskins / Hawaii Department of Lands and Natural Resources) 

Summer time is synonymous with enjoying time spent at the beach and playing in the surf. No one likes to hang out on a beach full of trash. Balloon debris that ends up along shorelines contribute to dirty beaches which deter tourists and residents from visiting and enjoying them.

Luckily, balloons and other types of marine debris is completely preventable. There are many decoration alternatives to balloons, such as fabric bunting, lights, paper streamers, plants, and reusable ornaments, which add some flare to any celebration! If you do use balloons, keep them inside and make sure there is a weight attached to prevent accidental releases.

There are many different types and sources of marine debris, however all marine debris comes from people. Ultimately, through awareness and practicing the “4Rs” – reduce, reuse, recycle, and refuse –we can all do our part in lessening and eliminating marine debris, including balloon debris.

Let’s get creative! How do you celebrate and decorate without balloons? Share your ideas with us below!

What Goes Up, Must Come Down!

Posted Tue, 06/26/2018 - 20:37

For citation purposes, unless otherwise noted, this article was authored by the NOAA Marine Debris Program.

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John Vonderlin

Wed, 06/27/2018 - 11:54

This folder documents some of the many thousands of balloon and balloon remnants I've collected from our local beaches. As well as an old piece of artwork using them, titled, "The Party is Over". This phrase was made famous on Monday Night Football, uttered when the game had become lopsided. We aren't there yet in regards defeating the ridiculous tradition of littering the skies, power lines and eventually the surface, with balloons. But your article is helping us move towards victory. Thanks. All my pictures are freely available for use. https://www.flickr.com/photos/johnvonderlin/albums/72157626310719830

Thank you for making this available John!!
We are on the South Coast of MA. and we have intercepted our share of balloon releases!! Our images are available to anyone who wishes to use them as well.

Zach Fyke

Fri, 09/06/2019 - 10:06

Great article! Spending roughly the past two years at sea, I saw many discarded balloons floating on the surface of the water and I couldn't help but think to myself, "this is just the beginning of this balloons life in the ocean." We need to think about the impacts we are having on this planet.