"You and I in a little toy shop
Buy a bag of balloons with the money we've got.
Set them free at the break of dawn
Till one by one they were gone."
- 99 Luftalloons, Kevin McAlea
In Kevin McAlea's classic anti-war song (based on the German version by the band Nena), 99 red balloons, released on a whim, lead, pretty much, to the total destruction of the world. That might be a bit of an exaggeration. Still, releasing balloons can have disastrous consequences for some of our planet's creatures.
Balloon releases are a popular way to celebrate an occasion, be it a sporting event, a wedding, or a memorial service. We all see the brightly colored spheres float up into the sky and imagine that they are free (as if inanimate objects could be "free"). The problem is, that which comes up must come down... even if it is full of helium.
Many of those balloons settle over the ocean as they deflate. There, they can be mistaken for jellyfish by hungry sea turtles, which will then eat them and then... die. Even more problematic are balloons that are released with their strings attached, which can entangle or strangle wildlife. Sea turtles are equally imperiled by plastic bags, such as those used in grocery stores, which constitute an enormous amount of waste every year.
Methods to help wildlife are simple. First of all, don't release balloons. Just don't. Even those listed as "biodegradable" aren't really, and may take a long time to break down, before which something is almost certain to try and eat them. The best way to prevent balloon releases is to raise awareness and present alternatives (tree plantings, for example, to remember a loved one) before an event is planned. People who are caught up in the emotions of a special occasion are less likely to listen to urges to change their plans after they've been second. Secondly, avoid the use of plastic bags. Use reusable ones of cloth or other materials. If you work in a zoo, sell reusable bags. If you must offer plastic bags in your gift shop, consider adding a small tax to it, with the proceeds going to conservation. Encourage visitors to avoid single-use bags.
Learn more about the perils that balloons pose to wildlife at Balloons Blow.
Save a sea turtle. Find some other way to make an occasion memorable.