Why balloons are harmful to the ocean

What goes up, must come down…

When cutting down on plastic in your life a good way to start is by reducing the amount of single-use plastic. Single-use plastic is often used while shopping in the supermarket (think plastic bags) and take away food (coffee cups), but the reality is, we rely on plastic in almost every aspect of our lives.

Other occasions, we use plastic for almost unnecessary reasons. Balloons are used commonly at birthday parties, for decoration and releases of balloon bunches often happen in moments of celebration. Letting balloons go and watching them fly high into the sky, they often then disappear from sight and our mind. People often don’t often stop to think about the after effect of their actions, what happens next to those balloons. When they fly away they burst and brake up into smaller pieces, often ending up in the ocean. Beach litter surveys have shown the number of balloons and balloon pieces found on the beach have tripled in the past 10 years.

During The Swim, the crew has found balloon fragments during their plastic protocols that they collect and record to help better understand the density of plastic in our oceans.

‘A balloon is a pretty powerful image, every year we release thousands of plastic none biodegradable balloons into the air, they have to end up somewhere and a lot of that time it is into the Ocean where they are often mistaken for food by animals’, said research manager and first mate Tyral Dalitz.

They commonly look like jellyfish when floating in the water, and are mistaken for food by marine life. Balloons are commonly made from synthetic materials and aren’t biodegradable, so they’re extremely dangerous of an animal to ingest. They clog up the animal’s digestive tract, stopping them from digesting food and they die a slow and painful death from starvation. As well as the plastic being harmful, the stings of balloons often cause animals to get tangled, which can strangle and kill marine life.

Worldwide clean up by Ocean Conservancy collected more than 1.2 million balloons over the past 25 years. Last year alone they picked up 93,913 balloon fragments littering our waterways and oceans. To put that into context, that’s enough balloons to lift a great white shark.

Plastic is strong and durable, which makes it an ideal material for many products, however, it’s also it’s downfall. Plastic doesn’t break down; it breaks up into smaller pieces of plastic known as ‘microplastic’. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration classify microplastics as less than 5 mm in diameter. This makes the plastic easier to be mistaken for food and ingested by animals. Even ‘ecofriendly’ balloons also take several years to break down, so are still a danger to marine life if they ingest them.

One of the greatest things about balloons is we don’t actually need them. They are an easy item to cut out of your life to help reduce the amount of single-use plastic in your life.

5 Gyre offers advice for going plastic-free at your next party.

Written by By Hannah Altschwager

Land coordinator and communications.

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