The Beacon

A Ballooning Problem

On Sunday, I watched the Euro 2008 final soccer match between Spain and Germany. The game was mostly dominated by the Spaniards and in the end, my colleagues from Madrid celebrated the victory from a Fernando Torres goal in the first half. This year's tournament was great fun to watch, but I noticed something disconcerting from Sunday's closing ceremony.

Prior to the game, 16 giant puppets filled with colored balloons performed an elaborate waltz. Each puppet represented one of the teams in the tournament, and as they played out the games through dance, when a team was eliminated, that puppet's colored balloons were released into the sky.

While the image of the balloons floating into the sky was both aesthetically pleasing and metaphorically accurate, I'm bothered by the feeling that those balloons are going to end up as litter in the sea. Once in the water, sea turtles and other marine life can confuse the balloons for prey and swallow them, at which point they can become trapped in the digestive system, causing major harm or death. Latex rubber balloons eventually biodegrade - but it is unclear how long that takes, especially in water.

In fact, balloon releases have been banned in Florida, Virginia, California and Maryland, And BBC News reported earlier this month that the UK's Marine Conservation Society is calling for a ban on mass balloon releases because birds and mammals are dying from eating discarded balloons.

An MCS rep is quoted as saying, "A recent international survey found nearly 60,000 balloons over a two-day period last year. Who knows how many are in the sea. It's vast and we just don't know."

On a positive note about turtles, scientists in the Gulf of California successfully attached satellite tags to three hawksbill turtles. Along with having a population size that is considered critically endangered, hawksbills are enigmatic marine creatures and very little is known about their movements and habitat use.

With any luck, these tags will provide the type of data necessary to effectively manage a comeback for the hawksbill...balloon litter aside.

And If you haven't already done so, do what you can to protect marine life by pledging to reduce your plastics consumption here.

[Image via Wikicommons]

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