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When the balloon goes up, consider the turtle

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Today is 23 May 2009, which is World Turtle Day and therefore a good day on which to write about balloons.

It is said that what goes up must come down. And helium-filled latex balloons released into the air are no exception. If fully inflated and not carrying too much weight, they reach high altitude, freeze, shatter and fall fairly harmlessly as dust. But a significant proportion land whole, partially deflated. In one year recently, a US conservation body found more than 32,000 intact balloons washed up on beaches.

Balloons that float down into the sea pose a serious hazard to marine animals because, to a dumb sea creature, a piece of floating balloon may look like a tasty jellyfish. Among the animals at greatest risk are marine turtles. In 2001, a juvenile green turtle washed up near Blackpool had starved to death with a balloon blocking its gut.

Also at particular risk are seabirds that feed on floating prey. But many other marine animals, including fishes, dolphins and whales, have also been found suffering or dying with their stomachs blocked by balloons. In 1985, an infant sperm whale was found dead of starvation. Lodged in its intestines was a metallised polyester (“foil”) balloon, still inflated.

On dry land, balloons may be eaten by farm animals and wildlife. And the risk for all creatures is increased if balloons have strings or ribbons tied to them. Birds and other animals may become tangled in them, leading to suffocation, starvation or drowning.

Balloon manufacturers argue that latex balloons are biodegradable and state that, according to research commissioned by their national association, they biodegrade in about six months.

However, independent research has shown that in salt water balloons may remain elastic and partially inflated for more than a year, posing a hazard to wildlife for the whole of that time.

Because of the threat posed by balloon litter, the Marine Conservation Society has been campaigning to stop balloon releases. It is backed by national organisations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the National Farmers’ Union, the Tidy Britain Group and Keep Scotland Beautiful, as well as some local authorities and many local wildlife groups.

You can add your name to the petition.

You can also campaign locally by asking schools, councils, clubs, etc, to prohibit balloon releases at their own events. If you should see a balloon release promoted locally, contact the organisers and suggest they visit the MCS website to learn about the problem.

And write to your member of Parliament, asking him or her not to attend balloon releases and to support any future legislation restricting or prohibiting them.

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From: Beyond pharmacy blog

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