Why balloon launches should have no part in charity campaigns?
By Gareth Jenkins
I have to confess right here and now my feelings about balloon launches are quite strong. I can go one or maybe two months without being reminded of them but then along comes another charity website with news of yet another latex launch to 'celebrate' or mark some totally worthwhile cause.
Now I have nothing against balloons as such. Indeed you could well find one or two examples knocking around the house at this very moment and, even though the smell of them is rather unpleasant, they are left unpopped and usually come to a deflated but honourable end.
Like alot of people I used to give very little thought to balloon launches and, dare I say it, thought they looked rather wonderful. Not any more.
So what's the problem?
I became aware of the work of the Marine Conservation Society when creating profiles for two of their campaigns - World Oceans Day and Beachwatch. In amongst details of their fantastic work was this small and rather understated campaign about balloons. Over to them -
Balloons kill wildlife.
Balloon litter floating at sea is deadly for many marine wildlife species. Marine turtles and some seabirds are particularly at risk, as they feed on prey that floats at the surface. They may mistake floating balloons for their jellyfish prey and swallow them, or become entangled and drown. Once swallowed, a balloon may block the digestive tract and eventually lead to death by starvation.
Some whales, dolphins, and fish are also known to have died as a result of eating balloons.
A juvenile green turtle washed up at Knott End-on-Sea beach near Blackpool, starved to death in December 2001, after a balloon blocked its gut. A male leatherback in a very poor condition stranded in North Carolina, USA in January 2004. The turtle was euthanased and the post mortem revealed that its gut had been completely blocked by plastic and an intact mylar balloon.
Most balloons are made from biodegradable latex (rubber), which degrades on exposure to air. A balloon industry-funded study concluded that latex balloons degrade at a rate similar to an oak leaf and cease to pose a threat at about six months. However, further studies indicate that balloons floating in seawater deteriorate at a much slower rate, wit h some balloons retaining their elasticity after twelve months. However long it might take for balloons to degrade, they can certainly stay intact in an animal's gut long after ingestion, and long enough to cause death by starvation.
Whether latex balloons degrade in six or twelve months, they persist in the marine environment and stay intact in an animal's gut long after ingestion - certainly long enough to cause death by starvation.
The MCS annual marine litter Beachwatch 2005 report, sponsored by the Crown Estate and the Dulverton Trust, has shown that the number of balloons and balloon pieces found on beaches surveyed for Beachwatch, has almost tripled from 3.4 items per Km to 9.9 items per metre.
So balloon launches in my opinion need to bite the dust .... now. Marine animals have enough to cope with over-fishing, pollution. and coastal developments without having to choke on our charity balloons.
There are plenty of alternatives so I urge you to look at the Marine Conservation Society website, sign their petition and stick a very sharp email off to any organisation you hear planning such an event.
About the Author
Gareth Jenkins is Founder and Editor of the Count Me In Calendar – visit the site http://www.countmeincalendar.info for the very latest charity events from around the world.
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