If you love the sight of waves of seabirds gliding over the oceans, the dumbest thing you could do is to send up those deadly party balloons. They kill more seabirds than many other marine plastic pollutants, even more than the deadly fishing nets that trap them.
The Number One Killer Of Marine Life
Plastics are killing marine life and seabirds as every creature from the tiny planktons to the whales is rapidly being poisoned, choked, and killed by different forms of waste. And the party balloons are among the worst offenders as they are silently killing off the seabirds. They have even overtaken the deadly plastic straws as the number one killer of marine life.
For just a fleeting moment of joy, we allow the deadly balloons to cause such immense havoc. It is amusing to watch them slowly disappear over the horizon. They do not float for eternity though. They slowly descend into the oceans and affect all marine life.
A survey of around 1,700 dead birds had revealed that a 25% of the fatality was due to plastic ingestion. And 40% of the total was due to balloons. Though surprisingly, only 5% of the undigested trash in their stomach consisted of balloons. It was revealed that the party balloons are the most lethal of the contents found in their gut.
A Slow Painful Death For The Unsuspecting Birds
It is not surprising that the party balloons end up in the birds’ stomachs. The unsuspecting birds swoop down on the colorful but deadly party balloons, taking them to be squids, and end up eating the poisonous objects.
These soft plastics go into the birds’ guts and block their digestive canal. The poor birds die a painful death from starvation. And soft plastic like party balloons is 32% more lethal than hard plastic. The reason for this is simple. Soft plastic is more easily ingestible and easily passes on into the intestine of the creatures.
A study by Lauren Roman, a researcher from the University of Tasmania in Australia, has discovered that the birds mostly died due to blockage in the gastrointestinal tract. This obstruction leads to various complications and infections which finally causes a painful death.
The Quantity Of Floating Is Already Unmanageable
An estimated 280,000 tons of plastic debris are already floating on the oceans around the world. Every marine creature is forced to consume this plastic starting right from the tiny planktons. They end up in the fish that we eat. Half the world’s seabirds ingest these plastics every day.
The party balloons alone contribute to a huge deterioration of the bird population. These are also consumed by fish which in turn are eaten by the birds. The party balloons develop a marine smell and an attractive biofilm when they remain in the water for long periods. These attract the seabirds all the more.
The researched birds included petrels, albatross, and shearwaters. The researchers studied the mortality caused by disease, fishing bycatch, infant mortality, and plastic ingestion of mostly the soft variety like party balloons. And surprisingly birds that swallowed fragments of balloons were much more likely to perish than those that had ingested hard plastic-like lollipop sticks and Lego pieces. Balloons have been found floating even 250 kilometers from the nearest human habitation.
There are existing laws that prevent the release of party balloons into the environment. Using biodegradable alternatives to plastic polymers to manufacture balloons is also an option that is being explored, though we are some way off that option.
But as individuals, we can make the most difference by shunning party balloons or at least making sure that we do not fill the air with them.