5 Small facts about balloon debris

Around festivities there are often discussions about the harmfulness of debris after balloon releases in the Netherlands. Wageningen Marine Research provides 5 small facts to consider: should we release balloons or maybe keep them on the ground?

  • 5 Small facts about balloon debris
  • 1. Balloons travel over great distances In early May 2007, a workvisit of researchers of Wageningen Marine Research to French colleagues became quite embarrassing! Following Dutch Queensday (then on 30 April), strong northeasterly winds brought a lot of Dutch party balloons all the way down to Normandy, at least 800km away from the point of release. In the vicinity of Le Havre, more than 10 balloons per kilometer coastline were recovered. Most originated from companies advertising their business. However, also charity organizations were involved, but here sending out the wrong message.
    1. Balloons travel over great distances
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  • 2. Balloons are a danger to wildlife Debris from balloons represents a danger, because animals may become entangled in ribbons preventing normal foraging activity. Animals also mistake balloon debris for food and ingest the material, which may block the stomach or intestines and lead to starvation.
    2. Balloons are a danger to wildlife
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  • 4. How many animals die because of balloons? It is impossible to give figures for the number of animals dying from entanglement or ingestion of latex balloon remains. Occasionally we find wildlife that died from entanglement or a blocked digestive system. At least 2% of fulmar stomachs investigated has remains of balloons. We have no idea about such figures for other wildlife species.
    How many animals die because of balloons?
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  • 3. Degradable balloons are not the solution Animals mistake remains from balloons for food, which may cause blockage of stomach and intestines an may lead to starvation. Latex rubber, in spite of its natural origin, does not degrade quickly enough to avoid ingestion by marine wildlife and potential damage to their digestive system.
    3. Degradable balloons are not the solution
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  • More about litter and consequences for the natural environment? Wageningen UR investigates the problems related to plastic litter in marine-, fresh water- and other natural environments. This ranges from plastic debris in the sea (‘Plastic Soup’) to invisible small plastic particles in rivers. Researchers of Wageningen Marine Research have been monitoring the abundance of plastic debris in stoachs of Northern Fulmars in the North Sea for over 30 years. That research forms the basis for monitoring programs also in other European marine areas. In part this concerns plastic ingestion by other bird species, but also by for example marine turtles, mammals and fishes in European waters and elsewhere.
    More about litter and consequences for the natural environment?
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  • 5. Choices: usefulness and necessity of balloons The risk of wildlife suffering or dying from balloons may be best balanced against usefulness or necessity of balloons released. Latex weather-balloons are an essential element for reliable weather forecasts to the extent that human lifes may be affected. But the short joy of a mass of party balloons disappearing into the sky? It is also an option to fix balloons as a decoration at the location, enjoy them for the full duration of the festivity, and in the end take them down to be discarded properly.
    5. Choices: usefulness and necessity of balloons
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