Nothing to celebrate: Balloons polluting Bay of Fundy

Next time you stop into the store to pick up a birthday balloon for someone you might want to stop and think about where it could end up. People working in the Bay of Fundy say they’ve seen more balloon garbage in the waters between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia this summer than ever before.

“It’s a record year. I’ve never seen many birthday balloons floating around the ocean, ever,” Tim Goodwin, a marine biologist and captain at Ocean Explorations Whale Cruises in Tiverton, N.S., told CBC’s Information Morning. “They’re everywhere this summer. I really don’t understand where they’re all coming from,” Goodwin said, adding he’s seen more balloons in the Bay of Fundy this year than in the last 30 years combined.

Matt Abbott, the Fundy Baykeeper, and summer intern Isaac Weatherhead say they’ve also removed record numbers of balloons from the shore this summer during their monthly cleanups of the Musquash Estuary Marine Protected Area.

Balloons, especially mylar balloons (the ones typically filled with helium), are potentially deadly to wildlife such as sea turtles, shorebirds, porpoise and whales. If they deflate and end up in a waterway (which is likely given that, hey, it’s a big ocean out there) their colours fade and they turn transparent — looking like an enticing jellyfish meal to marine wildlife.

The Fundy Baykeeper has also found record numbers of balloon garbage along the shore during monthly cleanups of the Musquash Estuary Marine Protected Area this summer.

If ingested, the balloons get stuck in an animal’s gut and don’t break down, blocking the digestive system and often causing death. Even if they don’t get eaten, they are still trash adding to the mountain of garbage already polluting the world’s oceans (think microplastics).

As the CBC notes, threats posed to wildlife by people are coming under greater scrutiny this summer in the wake of an unprecedented die-off of the critically endangered north Atlantic right whale. Preliminary results from necropsies indicate the whales are likely getting struck by ships in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and others entangled in fishing gear.

You may be thinking — “But what is a birthday party without balloons?!” Well, there are a number of environmentally-friendly alternatives if you are looking to celebrate an occasion without bringing undue risk to the wildlife that bring us so much joy:

  • Plant a native tree
  • Plant a pollinator garden (we even show you how here!)
  • Use reusable streamers, flags and banners, kites or garden spinners
  • Make your own bunting
  • Paint rocks for gardens, walkways, or under trees
  • Make your own bubble mix and blow bubbles

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