Biologists estimate that hundreds of thousands of helium balloons end up in the Great Lakes
According to a biologist in Ontario, the plastic balloons that we use to commemorate some of the most important milestones in our lives—birth, death, graduation, back to school, engagement, gender reveal parties—are running at the rate of hundreds of thousands. The Great Lakes ends. Collect garbage for two weeks.
Leanne Grieves is a postdoctoral researcher at McMaster University in Hamilton, studying bird behavior and communication. This summer, she has been working at Birds Canada in Long Point on the north shore of Lake Yili.
“Lake Erie is beautiful and the coastline is beautiful, especially if you are on the Longhorn Peninsula,” she said. “This is really a glorious place.”
However, the less glorious thing is rubbish, which became Greaves’ thorny eye, so that she could not extricate herself.
Hundreds of balloons along the 7 kilometers of beach
“Too much rubbish washed up on the shore,” she said. “A few days after getting on and off our website, I just thought,’This is ridiculous. We have to start cleaning it up.'”
So Greaves and the biologist Ryan Ley began to go up and down the shore, picking up any rubbish they found. In less than two weeks, the two gathered less than 380 helium balloons on a 7-kilometer-long beach-this is not always easy.
Greaves said: “Sometimes I have to wade in rubber boots to get balloons that have not yet washed ashore.”
“Sometimes it is necessary to dig sand to extract buried balloons, and sometimes it is necessary to enter the surrounding habitat to extract balloons from trees and shrubs.”
The mass release of balloons has been the traditional way of celebrating special events for decades, but as research highlights the environmental consequences, this approach is becoming more and more controversial.
Although balloons decompose over time, they do not dissolve completely. Smaller plastic fragments will eventually remain in the environment, and animals may mistake it for food.
After ingestion, plastic has no nutritional value. If the fragments are large enough, they will block or get stuck in the animal’s intestines, slowly starving them to death.
Animals such as birds and turtles may also be trapped by the ropes and ribbons attached to the balloons, drowning them or pressing them so hard that they cannot find food.
The Canadian Wildlife Federation has proposed some alternative methods of releasing balloons, such as planting a tree or a memorial garden to commemorate loved ones.
The federation pointed out on its website that the balloon can fly long distances under the influence of wind and current, and noted a report on the balloon released at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics in Japan. The balloon eventually reached 8,500 kilometers away. Los Angeles.
Especially shiny, metallic-looking polyester film balloons Known to cause fire or power outage When they are entangled in wires.
Gender reveals, common findings in graduate balloons
Despite the danger, people are still releasing a large number of balloons.
Greaves said she and Ley found a large number of pink and blue balloons at the fashionable gender reveal party, as well as graduation balloons at the end of the school year.
“They say things like’follow your dream’ or’adventure has just begun’, but it’s just this huge balloon that spoils this beautiful landscape, so it’s a bit shocking to see this.”
According to Greaves, one of the most striking discoveries was a balloon from last Christmas, which illustrates how a seemingly small but short celebration moment can have a lasting impact on the environment.
“Its date is December 13, 2020, and it’s in good condition, so these balloons can indeed stay in the environment for months, even years.”
In her trash hunting work, Greaves recorded everything, including taking photos of each trash, then stuffing it into a trash bag, and carefully recording the amount and location of the collection.
She also did a little math. Once she and Ley cleared a stretch of beach, they returned the next day and counted each new balloon they found on the same stretch of beach.
Based on her calculations, she estimates that 1.9 balloons are washed out every kilometer on the 1,400 kilometers of Lake Erie’s shoreline every day.
The potential impact is “astonishing”
“If you assume that they wash up the Lake Erie shoreline at the same speed, then 960,000 balloons wash up the Lake Erie shoreline every year,” she said.
“Even if my estimate deviates by 50%, there are 500,000 balloons washing one of our Great Lakes. The potential impact of these balloons is staggering.”
She said that considering the number of balloons that Greaves found, it seems to cover all areas from Mother’s Day to welcoming the army home, which shows how uncomfortable it is to release balloons into the air despite the environmental consequences. welcome.
Except for a few Ontario communities that have passed their own regulations prohibiting the release of large numbers of helium balloons, there is no provincial or federal legislation regulating this practice.
A petition initiated by the New Democratic Party and submitted to the House of Commons is trying to obtain enough signatures to prohibit the release of helium balloons and sky lanterns, thereby imposing a fine on it.
Grieves hopes that by sharing her work, more people will understand the potential environmental impact of releasing helium balloons.
“Balloon release is an ongoing problem. You can’t just clean them once. We will continue to clean them until we stop releasing them.”