While steps and actions taken by civilians and community members can accumulate to have a large, positive effect on biodiversity, there is still a need for governmental action and regulation laws and policies to really enforce actions that protect biodiversity. Laws exists to protect several different aspects of ecosystems, wildlife, and more, including a law prohibiting balloon releases.
The Title 29 of the Code of Virginia prohibits the release of nonbiodegradable or nonphotodegradable balloons into the atmosphere in numbers of fifty or more within a one-hour period. Balloon releases are generally conducted as a memorial event for lost loved ones, among other reasons. What people do not realize, however, is the negative impact that balloons have on wildlife. When something goes up, it must come down; balloons are no exception. Once a balloon reaches a high enough altitude, it will either pop or start to deflate and make its way back to the ground.
Because the majority of Earth’s surface is water and not land, the balloon will most likely end up in the ocean. While it floats on the surface, animals such as sea turtles may mistake it for their favorite food – jellyfish. As I already discussed in my post about habitat loss, six of the seven species of sea turtles are in danger of becoming extinct. When a turtle munches on a balloon, the pieces will clog up its stomach or digestive system and the animal will end up starving to death. Other animals, such as seals and birds, can become entangled in the ribbons attached to massive amounts of balloons and they end up suffocating to death.
Fortunately Title 29 is in place to help regulate the number of balloons released into the environment. Unfortunately, the law only protects against nonbiodegradable and nonphotodegradable balloons, which still allow biodegradable and photodegradable balloons to be released. These so-called ‘biodegradable’ balloons still take years to decompose in the environment. This leaves plenty of time for animals ingest them. However, the law does specify that those who disobey this law can be charged five dollars per balloon released and the money goes into the Lifetime Hunting and Fishing Endowment Fund. In my opinion, the law should be expanded to include biodegradable balloons as well. However, having a law that limits balloon releases at all is progress and it does do its part to protect biodiversity to an extent.
[Balloon image by flickr user DanCentury // CC licensed ]
[Turtle image found on Balloons Blow // permission for use given]
[Bird image by flickr user USFWS Headquarters // CC licensed]