3. Degradable balloons are not the solution

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.

Photo to the right: stomach content of a Northern Fulmar that had ingested a large piece of a weather balloon (greyish) as well as a normal party balloon (light purple) and all sorts of other plastics. In extreme cases like this a balloon completely blocks the digestive system.   

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Latex degrades faster than synthetic plastics, but nevertheless remains intact long enough for negative consequences to occur

Fulmars have two stomachs: the first is a large glandular stomach (proventriculus, in top of the photo), which has a narrow passage into the second smaller and muscular stomach (gizzard, the bulbous organ at the lower right). In this bird, several pieces of balloon rubber had filled the proventriculus to the extent that passage of food to the gizzard and intestines had become impossible. The latex rubber, in particular the thicker ring is clearly visible through the thin wall of the proventriculus. The bird was found starved to death.
Fulmars have two stomachs: the first is a large glandular stomach (proventriculus, in top of the photo), which has a narrow passage into the second smaller and muscular stomach (gizzard, the bulbous organ at the lower right). In this bird, several pieces of balloon rubber had filled the proventriculus to the extent that passage of food to the gizzard and intestines had become impossible. The latex rubber, in particular the thicker ring is clearly visible through the thin wall of the proventriculus. The bird was found starved to death.
The sorted contents of the Fulmar stomach shown above, with lots of latex balloon remains. Above the petri dishes is the opened stomach (left proventriculus, right gizzard). The large petri dish to the left shows a large piece of latex from a weather balloon, and partly digested remains of a light purple latex party balloon, plus a bundle of fibrous synthetic debris. The smaller petridish shows contents from the gizzard with small plastic particles and some natural materials.
The sorted contents of the Fulmar stomach shown above, with lots of latex balloon remains. Above the petri dishes is the opened stomach (left proventriculus, right gizzard). The large petri dish to the left shows a large piece of latex from a weather balloon, and partly digested remains of a light purple latex party balloon, plus a bundle of fibrous synthetic debris. The smaller petridish shows contents from the gizzard with small plastic particles and some natural materials.
Only when fully stretched out, the size of the above mentioned latex rubber items becomes apparent
Only when fully stretched out, the size of the above mentioned latex rubber items becomes apparent

Click on the picture below for more information about scientific research on balloon latex

Click on the picture for more information about scientific research on balloon latex
Click on the picture for more information about scientific research on balloon latex

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Example of remains of a fragmented latex party balloon from the stomach of a beached dead Fulmar.
Example of remains of a fragmented latex party balloon from the stomach of a beached dead Fulmar.
Quantities of latex rubber in stomachs are not always of spectacular size. This photographs shows a stomach content with a range of plastic debris, including two pre-production industrial pellets (top left), threadlike materials, foams, fragments and sheetlike plastics. The orange object at bottom right is a shrivelled piece of latex balloon. Although such a piece may not be the sole and direct cause of death, and probably passes the digestive system more rapidly than the plastics, negative impacts cannot be excluded.
Quantities of latex rubber in stomachs are not always of spectacular size. This photographs shows a stomach content with a range of plastic debris, including two pre-production industrial pellets (top left), threadlike materials, foams, fragments and sheetlike plastics. The orange object at bottom right is a shrivelled piece of latex balloon. Although such a piece may not be the sole and direct cause of death, and probably passes the digestive system more rapidly than the plastics, negative impacts cannot be excluded.