Contradictions soar over balloon releases
On a recent weekend at Ihilani we noticed that a wedding chapel a ways down from the hotel was releasing white balloons in the shape of birds. Although it was impressive, we wondered if this wasn't against any kind of littering or environmental laws. The balloons were obviously going out to sea and at some point landing in the ocean. With all the reefs and sea life around that area, wouldn't the plastic or vinyl do damage to the ecosystem in some way? We saw them go off twice in one day, so I'm assuming that with every wedding there are at least close to 10 or so balloons going off per wedding.
Q: On Easter Sunday, I witnessed several dozens of balloons floating above the air in Honolulu. It concerned me given the fact that we are in close proximity to a variety of sea life that could be affected by a mass balloon release. Does the city and county have any ordinances against releasing balloons? If not, how can one work toward the passing of such an ordinance?
STAR-BULLETIN / FEBRUARY 2001
While some people contend that a mass release of balloons like the one shown here harm the environment, the balloon industry contends that there are many misconceptions and inaccurate statements regarding the dangers of released balloons. CLICK FOR LARGE
There are no state or county laws in Hawaii regarding the release of balloons, although other states do have laws restricting the mass release of balloons (from as low as 10 at a time), including Florida, Connecticut, Tennessee, California and Virginia.
You can contact your legislator or council representative to find out if there is any support for such a restriction here.
There is a danger that birds and sea turtles will eat balloon pieces, said Jeff Walters, a marine biologist with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. In general, "any type of debris in the water is not good for any of the ecosystem."
But he is more concerned about everyday litter: "Unfortunately, plastic grocery bags, etc., blowing off the beach in the tradewinds probably dwarf any problem created by balloons."
Walters said the state has contacted people releasing balloons and asked them to stop voluntarily.
"Our strategy is to appeal to the better nature of whoever it is that thinks it's a cool thing to release these balloons," he said. "Those balloons come down in the ocean and could be ingested by turtles and other animals -- is that something that you really want to do?"
The balloon industry counters that there are many misconceptions and inaccurate statements regarding the dangers of released balloons.
We contacted Marty Fish, executive director of the International Balloon Association.
"The IBA does not recommend or promote the release of metallic balloons (sometimes referred to as mylars) and promotes only the responsible release of 100 percent biodegradable latex balloons," he told us via e-mail.
He referred us to the Balloon Council, which represents manufacturers, distributors and retailers in the balloon industry and which fights "negative legislative initiatives about balloons by educating our legislators and the public on such things as balloon releases."
Check the council's Web site -- www.balloonhq.com/BalloonCouncil/facts.html -- for its position. You also can call toll-free at (800) 233-8887 to find out about the recommended handling of balloons, as well as regulations governing their use.
Among the council's assertions: Although balloon pieces have been found ingested by various sea animals, there has been "no direct scientific evidence that any sea animal has been harmed or killed by a latex balloon involved in a release," and only "one scientifically documented incident in which a sea animal was harmed by a latex balloon."
It also maintains balloons present a "minuscule litter threat."
The council says the American balloon industry has firm standards for mass releases: Only 100 percent latex balloons should be used; all attachments must be biodegradable; all balloons must be self-tied; and balloons cannot be attached to each other.
The council Web site mentions that Hawaii-based George Balazs, of the National Marine Fisheries Service's Marine Turtle Research Program, "is often cited by balloon release opponents. However, Dr. Balazs has never claimed that a balloon caused the death of any sea animal, even though he has found balloon pieces during several necropsies."
Balazs, noting the issue is controversial and complex, told us the only comment he wished to make was "every litter bit hurts."
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