Releasing the balloons at the end of the May Merrie festival in Kingston, Surrey. Photo: Garry Knight
Releasing the balloons at the end of the May Merrie festival in Kingston, Surrey. Photo: Garry Knight

Roscommon festival cancels balloon race over environmental concerns

July 19th, 2018

Environmentalists have welcomed the decision of festival organizers to cancel a balloon race in Co Roscommon due to the potential impact on the environment and wildlife.

The committee of the Rooskey Heritage Festival decided to cancel the race, which was planned to take place at the end of July, after receiving a letter from the Friends of the Irish Environment [FiE].

The letter from the Cork-based environmental group points to the negative environmental consequences of balloon releases, which have already been banned in several US States, Australia, and 62 local authorities in the UK, including 4 in Northern Ireland.

The letter explained that balloons released into the environment will eventually burst and the fragments can become “lethal marine debris” and a hazard to the likes of sea turtles, dolphins, and seabirds who mistake them for food.

“The organisers were misled by the manufacturers of the balloons who argue that balloons made of natural materials such as latex are ‘biodegradable’,” according to FiE. Latex balloons can take up to six months to degrade on land and up to twelve months in saltwater.

FIE has offered to make a “modest contribution” to the festival committee to cover the cost of cancelling the balloon race.

Green Sea Turtle grazing seagrass at Akumal bay. Photo: P.Lindgren

Green Sea Turtle grazing seagrass at Akumal bay. Photo: P.Lindgren

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that sea turtles have a tendency to ingest latex material that can reside in their stomachs for up to four months.

The NOAA study found that this can cause a blockage in the gut and result in death from starvation if the turtle eats enough of the latex materials.

According to the UK Rivers Network, Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles have been found with balloons in their guts that they probably mistook for jellyfish.

Cancellations in Ireland

Both the Cork Autism Society and the Dublin Mount Anvil School have cancelled balloon release after previous interventions from FiE.

A balloon release planned for the January 2013 opening of the Irish EU Presidency was also re-arranged after the environmental group protested for a secure release instead of a general release of balloons.

Last year, the Senior Executive Officer of Cork County Council, Ted O’Leary, said that he was in favour of banning balloon releases in the county, although this would require a reform of current litter legislation.

“The direct fly-tipping of such material is an offence under current litter and waste legislation, while the release of such material into the air is not,” he is reported as saying in the East Cork Journal last September.

About the Author

Asmae Ourkiya

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Asmae is a first year PhD candidate from Morocco, majoring in Ecocriticism at Mary Immaculate College, Co Limerick. She has a strong interest in renewable energy as well as environmental justice and ecofeminism. She is passionate about writing and enjoys investigating environmental issues.

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