balloons are a child’s delight, especially if the balloon is filled with helium,
and floats magically in the air.
the mass releases of helium balloons are illegal in NSW, the occasional party
balloon slips through the fingers and drifts off to places unknown. We regularly
pick balloons, scattered along the beaches, to avoid them being swallowed by turtles
Tuesday, June Harris, a local, avid birdo noticed a Giant Petrel wallowing helplessly
in the surf at Shelley Beach. ASR Volunteers Rod and Angie were soon on the scene
and retrieved the bird from the water. A ribbon was hanging from the bird’s beak
and we had some serious fears that a balloon was lodged in its intestines.
an hour we struggled with the ribbon, but try as we may, the item would not dislodge.
In desperation, we dosed the bird with olive oil, to lubricate the system. A few
minutes later, 30 cm of ribbon was hauled from the bird’s innards, with an orange
balloon attached. The bird was starving, and would have died in a matter of days.
Within the hour of removing the balloon, the bird was feasting on fresh fish at
our WildlifeLink Centre.
New South Wales government has banned mass releases of helium balloons. Whilst
these releases continue in many parts of the world, considerable information from
overseas sources continues to support the fact that marine creatures are at risk
from swallowing these balloons.
the balloon is attached to a string or not, if it is filled with helium, it will
float, and eventually come down still presenting a choking hazard or digestion
hazard for marine turtles and many other species.
a Northern Giant Petrel, (a very large pelagic seabird), now listed as an endangered
species, was presented with a ribbon hanging from its beak. The big bird was near
death. Suspecting the ribbon was attached to a balloon, volunteers were initially
unsuccessful in removing the balloon, when the ribbon broke.
However, after rejoining the ribbon, and tubing some paraffin oil into the bird,
the orange balloon was removed from the intestines of the bird. Within several
minutes of the operation, the bird consumed almost one kilogram of fish, and was
eventually released. Contrary to some beliefs, wildlife rescuers and rehabilitators,
such as Australian Seabird Rescue achieve an extremely high success rate in the
successful release of over 70 species of seabirds, and five species of marine
an experiment, the deflated balloon was towed around the bird’s pool, to determine
the bird’s reaction. The Petrel was intent on chasing the balloon and volunteers
had to be intensely alert, in order that the bird did not swallow the balloon,
again. It has been said, that helium-filled balloons rise to a height where they
‘freeze to a state of brittle fracture’ and ‘burst into small pieces, whereupon
the flutter harmlessly to earth’.
placed several latex balloons, from various manufacturers, into a commercial
freezer, which was operating at 50 degs Celsius BELOW ZERO. Despite two months
in this sub-zero environment, the balloons retained their shape, albeit partially
deflated. After the period of two months, volunteers entered the freezer,
and waited until the temperature had returned to 50 degs below zero. Even at
that temperature, the balloons were still pliable and had not reached a state
of ‘brittle fracture’.
15 August 2007, several balloons were found tied together on South Ballina beach,
New South Wales, Australia. One of the balloons originated from Mingara Recreation
Club on the Central Coast of New South Wales, 660km south of Ballina. After informing
Mingara of the find, the Club explained helium balloons are used internally for
promotional activities, however balloons are given to members for their children
unaware of the impacts of helium balloons, the Club is now implementing a safe
use policy for balloons and educating their staff on the impact of helium balloons
on the environment. Whilst these few balloons were accidentally released, it demonstrated
the distance some of these balloons can travel.
balloons had not only travelled 660 kilometres, but they had not ‘fractured
into small harmless pieces’ (as suggested by the balloon companies).
even if balloons did fracture into small pieces, according to our studies and
autopsies of marine turtles, each piece of balloon would present a significant
threat to small, hatchling turtles. All species of seaturtles in Australian
waters are considered endangered, threatened or vulnerable. According to Dr Colin
Limpus of the Environmental Protection Agency of Queensland, the statistics indicate
that only 1-in-1000 seaturtles survives to maturity!
latex is biodegradable. However, there are many marine creatures constantly
searching for food sources. A floating balloon, or a piece thereof, represents
a food source, whether it is biodegradable, deflated, blue, green, orange, or
in small, so-called ‘harmless’ pieces… and continues to be a significant threat
to our precious wildlife, irrespective of the size, colour, texture or shape
of the pollutant.
worldwide studies, (U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife, UK Marine Conservation Society)
it is estimated that a latex balloon may take as long as 12 months to biodegrade.
Meanwhile, as they degrade, thousands more are released into the environment at
balloon releases… to ‘top up’ the constant threat to our wildlife.
early 2007, Kathy Townsend PhD, of Queensland University, found balloons in the
stomach of a dead sea turtle.
of balloons into the environment, whether it is on the ground or in the air, is
not only littering, but presents a hazard to marine creatures who mistake these
items for food.
‘jet-stream’ air-flow across the continent is from west to east. Helium balloons
are thus likely to reach the height of the jet-stream, and eventually find their
way into the ocean.
you ever been to a party where helium balloons were floating around the room?
And for those who stayed late, they would have noticed that these balloons slowly
drifted to the floor.
is a simple explanation; Helium is an expensive gas. Its atomic structure is very
small, in fact the second smallest atom in the world. A balloon is filled with
what is called ‘balloon gas’ – a mixture of ordinary air and helium – just enough
to float the balloon. The Helium is small enough, over a time, to pass through
the wall of the balloon, thus allowing the balloon to descend.
one was to dump 1000 balloons on the roadway, the action would incur a penalty
for littering. What gives us the right to dump many thousands of balloons in the
ocean? That is very likely where helium filled balloons will end up.
PERSON involved in the release of helium balloons creates a real threat
to many endangered species of marine creatures.
the closing ceremony of the Paralympics (2000), thousands of balloons were used
in the display. Not one was filled with helium, and not one ended up in the ocean.
There are many ways to celebrate with balloons, without recklessly endangering
the children this: “Would you like a balloon to take home… or would you rather
we just throw them away into the ocean?”
goes up, DOES come down!
We are losing our endangered species.