Intentional balloon releases are common occurrences at weddings, birthdays, memorials, graduations, and many other events where groups of people come together and intentionally release helium balloons into the air as part of a celebration. While there might be good intentions behind these releases, each balloon has the potential to travel hundreds or even thousands of miles, eventually landing as litter on beaches, lakes, forests, and other natural areas. Beyond polluting the environment, wildlife, livestock, and pets can be injured or killed from ingesting the balloon fragments, getting entangled in the long ribbons or strings, or by being spooked by the falling debris.
The two most common types of balloons are Mylar and latex. Mylar, or foil balloons, are made from plastic nylon sheets with a metallic coating and will never biodegrade. While some claim that latex balloons made from liquid rubber are biodegradable, they still take many years to break down as they are usually mixed with plasticizers and other chemical additives that hinder the biodegradation process.
Latex balloons also pop and shred in the atmosphere and, when floating on the surface of the water, are easily mistaken for jellyfish or squid by seabirds, sea turtles, and other marine life. Latex balloons are the deadliest form of marine debris for seabirds - 32 times more likely to kill than hard plastics when ingested. Balloons are also ranked just behind fishing gear and plastic bags and utensils as the deadliest form of ocean trash for marine life due to the high risk of death from ingestion and entanglement.
Balloon litter is a serious threat to the environment and wildlife. If you come across any balloon debris, please use this citizen science survey to record information, including the date, GPS location, and photo. With information submitted by you and other volunteers, it will be possible to help map balloon debris and help raise awareness.