Environmental group calls for cancellation of Charity Balloon-Release

Published by Dave Brooks on

September 5th, 2016

UPDATE September 6th 2016: Since the publication of this story the Cork Autism Society has cancelled the planned Balloon release.  Marian Courtney, the Sales & Marketing Manager, has written to the group saying that the balloons, which are tied to participant’s wrist during the walk, ‘will not be released this year but will instead be taken home by the participants’. ‘We are delighted with the prompt response from the Society’, said FIE Director Tony Lowes.

Irish Environmental NGO Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) has called for changes to a balloon-release event planned for this Sunday by the Cork Association for Autism.

The organisation’s annual ‘Blue Balloon and Fun Walk’ is scheduled for 11 am on Sunday the 11th at Blackrock, Cork, and includes a balloon-release. FIE are appealing to the Autism group to ‘keep it on a string’, in a move to prevent the balloons from harming wildlife.

FIE said the practice of releasing balloons was ‘an act of littering’ that only continued because people were unaware of the consequences. “If the public knew how hazardous balloons are to the environment they would never allow it”, FIE Director Tony Lowes said. “It has been well established since a Canadian marine conference in 1989 that the release of gas filled balloons is an environmental hazard. The fragments can become lethal ‘marine debris’, a hazard for sea turtles, dolphins, whales, fish, and seabirds who mistake them for jellyfish or other natural prey,” he added.

One of the risks of balloons ending up in the oceans or other natural habitats is that wildlife can ingest them and subsequently starve, even in the case of biodegradable balloons.  “The string on balloons can also entangle and trap animals. Not only can entanglement cause death, but added to other plastic fragments, animals can feel full and actually starve to death from not eating. Latex balloons, whilst biodegradable, may still persist in the marine environment for up to four years”, Mr Lowes added.

FIE were instrumental in amending the launch event of the Irish 2013 EU presidency, where they instigated a ‘secure balloon launch’, which involved releasing balloons on extra-long string, before giving them to children to take home as a souvenir from the event. Mr. Lowes stressed that their organisation meant no disrespect for the Charity or the many hard working volunteers who were planning this event. “Nor are we seeking to have balloons banned, but rather to join cities in the United States and many English counties in having balloons included in the legal definition of litter and making outdoor releases illegal,” he said.

“What is key is to ensure that people know of the damage they could unwittingly be causing. Local Authorities could adopt voluntary bans on their own lands as could the Parks and Wildlife Service. This would greatly help to raise awareness – and that’s the key to any change in our behaviour. We don’t believe anyone wants to intentionally cause the needless suffering and death of wildlife or marine animals.”

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Dave Brooks

Dave works as Communication Assistant with the Environmental Pillar. His background is in psychology and he has a masters in Environmental Psychology from the University of Surrey.