Balloons and Sky Lanterns are DANGEROUS to wildlife: You can look, you can touch, but please DON’T let go!

Like many companies when planning a celebration, my company, was thinking of having a small balloon release to mark our launch last month. We quickly changed our minds however, when one of our Associate charities, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), alerted us to the awful consequences for wildlife of the current trend in releasing balloons at corporate, promotional and celebratory events.

The MCS have told us that balloons and sky lanterns can cause major problems for wildlife on both land and sea.  The problems happen once these objects float back down to earth as litter, either semi-inflated, or in thousands of small fragments.  Animals can mistake the remnants for food, and ingest them, ending up with blocked or engorged digestive systems, and eventually choking or starving to death.  A deflated balloon does not look much different to a jellyfish to a hungry turtle.  It’s a fact that dolphins, whales, turtles and seabirds have all been reported with balloons in their stomachs.  Another cruel outcome of such litter is that animals and birds can get tangled up in balloon ribbon/string, restricting movement and the ability to eat, and hence face a lingering death.

MCS balloons & skylanterns 1

Balloons and sky lanterns kill wildlife

Incredibly, the largest ever balloon release was 1.4 million balloons, 10% of which – 140,000 – may have returned to the land and sea where they could have been mistaken for prey and eaten by animals.

It’s an international problem.  The International Coastal Clean-up (which has involved millions of volunteers in over 150 countries cleaning beaches and rivers) revealed that 1,248,892 balloon litter items have been recorded washed up on beaches over the last 25 years.

The MCS are so concerned by the issue that they have made it one of their campaigns, and are doing all they can to educate the public about the dangers of balloons and sky lanterns.  You can obtain their very informative booklet here: Don’t Let Go

What you can do to help

1. Because of the threat posed to wildlife by balloons, releases have been banned by over 20 local authorities in the UK.  If yours is not one of them, could you contact it and ask why not?  Raise local authorities’ awareness of the work that the MCS is doing.

2. Obtain a ‘Don’t Let Go’ Action Pack from the MCS.

3. Take note of the “Seven steps to stopping a planned release going ahead” listed in the booklet and take action where you can.

4. Be aware of the alternative ways of using balloons and sky lanterns in celebration that are wildlife-friendly.  Nobody wants people to stop having fun, but it’s preferable to have fun without endangering wildlife in the process. Again the booklet lists some creative ways to play with balloons and skylanterns.  How about balloon sculptures and popping balloons instead of releasing them?

5. Sign a pledge to not release balloons or lanterns, and encourage all your contacts, whether school, businesses or other organisations to also do so.

Whatever you can do to help, our wildlife on land and sea will benefit.  As for our company, has pledged NEVER to be involved in any way with balloon or lantern release.

For further information on the topic consult the Marine Conservation Society: Don’t Let Go Campaign

Since becoming aware of all the great campaigning, policy and eduational work that the MCS does to protect our seas and shores I have joined the MCS as an individual supporter.  They need more members to increase their impact.  Please consider becoming a supporter- there are several ways you could get involved in fundraising, in addition to individual and company supporter status. Support MCS


About Dr. Elaine Atkins

Author, Therapist and Communications Director at
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