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Balloon Trash Outreach
Northeast Region, August 1, 2011
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Volunteer Jessica Flory wears balloon dress that she made and smiles with Volunteers Mike and Deb Lanosz.
Volunteer Jessica Flory wears balloon dress that she made and smiles with Volunteers Mike and Deb Lanosz. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Volunteer Jessica Flory gets signatures from visitors promising not to release balloons into nature.
Volunteer Jessica Flory gets signatures from visitors promising not to release balloons into nature. - Photo Credit: USFWS
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Eighty- seven what?

On a pristine, uninhabited barrier island off the coast of Virginia, eighty-seven is not the number of birds counted running between the surf and sand.  It is not the number of feet between the waves and the dunes.
Eighty-seven IS the number of balloons found washed up on the beach, out of the ocean. A few hours on a 6-mile stretch of beach makes the number of balloons even more harrowing, just the tip of the iceberg. A reminder of human waste and carelessness, even in a place few people visit. Like so many other forms of trash, balloons are deceitful, disguising themselves as an easy snack to innocent wildlife. Sea turtles have been found with balloons in their stomachs, birds’ dead with balloon strings wrapped around their necks. Discarded trash into the environment isn’t just ugly, it’s dangerous.

So, why are we finding so many balloons out on the barrier islands and other beaches? It’s as simple as the old saying “what goes up must come down”. It is easy for someone to let go of an object full of helium, just aching to go up, up and up! Accidental escapes are likely to occur, but the worst are the organized balloon releases. These are frequently large groups of people getting together to release hundreds, even thousands, of balloons at once for a dramatic atmospheric exhibition. They are often in honor of someone or something. An act of kindness can turn into an environmental heartache. Why would people do something so horrible? The main reason is that they aren’t aware of the implications of the act, they simply may not know. The best way to stop this sort of behavior is through education.

At the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge, youth volunteers have create a dress out of the balloons found on the beach. The balloon dress is quite a sight and draws the attention of both children and adults. Getting their attention is only the beginning of the education. Once someone sees the dress they ask what it’s all about. The story of balloons found on beaches and the dangers they create for the environment are relayed time after time to anyone with open ears. Students promise not to release balloons and they promise to spread the word about the dangers of balloons (and all litter) in the environment. People of all ages sign posters promising not to release balloons. It turns out that spreading the word can travel very far, farther than released balloons, only we hope the word keeps floating around and doesn’t get washed away like the trashy balloons we find on the beach.


Contact Info: Jennifer Lewis, 734-365-0219, jennifer_lewis@fws.gov
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