It’s unanimous. All four municipalities on Absecon Island now have banned releasing lighter-than-air balloons. We hope it starts a trend among Jersey Shore municipalities.
Atlantic City Council late last month joined Ventnor, Margate and Longport in enacting such a ban. It was quickly rewarded with a Compassionate City Award from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and a box of turtle-shaped chocolates (vegan, of course).
Sea turtles are one of the main victims of released balloons that drop into the ocean, sometimes mistaking them for food such as jellyfish. Shore communities have an extra responsibility to prevent balloon releases, since the airborne litter is immediately carried over the water by prevailing westerly winds.
Environmental groups worldwide oppose balloon releases, including Save the Whales, which says balloons kill thousands of animals each year and can travel hundreds of miles to do so.
A 2015 U.S. Fish and Wildlife article, “Please Don’t Release Your Balloons,” said birds and marine animals ingest balloons and get entangled in their strings, often with fatal results. The article included photos of animals killed by balloons and reported that more than 100 balloons were gathered from a single beach at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Galloway Township on a cleanup day.
South Jersey long has been a leader in the campaign against releasing balloons into the environment. Attention to the issue went national in 1985 when Robert Schoelkopf, president of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, showed this newspaper a plastic balloon retrieved from a dead whale’s stomach.
Plastic balloons, very durable and usually shiny, are the most dangerous and typically not used in mass balloon releases. Those are done with latex balloons. When Longport was passing its balloon-release ban in December, it was opposed by the Balloon Council, a national group of balloon manufacturers and sellers. The group called released latex balloons “environmentally friendly” because the materials are natural and eventually degrade.
But the repeated documentation of animals killed by released balloons, including latex ones, shows that argument to be pointless. Besides, if nothing else, balloon releases are littering on a massive scale. And the positive argument for balloon releases is … what? People like to see things float into the air and away?
Surely there are better ways to celebrate in the 21st century than putting wildlife at risk and littering.
Five states and many cities have banned balloon releases. A 1991 bill to do so in New Jersey sponsored by then-Sen. William Gormley, of Atlantic County, failed to pass the Legislature after balloon-industry lobbying.
Other shore municipalities should follow Absecon Island’s lead and ban this harmful practice where it counts most — next to the ocean.
Maybe then, with another round of attention to the issue, state legislators might find the fortitude to do the simple, right thing and ban releases statewide.