Beach Haven Council Considering Balloon Release Ban

May 24, 2017
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill

If you’re looking to mark a festive occasion by releasing helium-filled balloons into the air, you’ll probably have to find somewhere other than Beach Haven or Long Beach Township in the near future.

The Beach Haven Borough Council is considering introducing an ordinance that would ban the release of helium-filled balloons into the atmosphere for the purpose of protecting sea life. Various environmental groups have asserted that when balloons are ingested by animals, those animals can’t digest them, and often, the balloons will block actual food from entering the stomach, causing the animals to starve to death.

Borough Clerk/Acting Manager Sherry Mason said the ordinance could be introduced in time for the June 12 meeting.

“This is something we’ve talked about before,” said Mayor Nancy Taggart Davis. “But as a shore community, we have to be mindful of protecting the environment. Now that other towns have adopted such an ordinance, it’s probably time for us to act.”

The Long Beach Township Board of Commissioners recently introduced an ordinance banning the release of balloons, and a public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for Monday, June 5, at 6 p.m. Earlier this year, bans were enacted in the Atlantic County communities of Atlantic City, Ventnor, Longport and Margate.  

Robert Schoelkopf, founder and director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, has been pressing this issue for more than 30 years. In the 1980s, he said, his nonprofit center had examined five cases in which balloons contributed to the death of marine mammals, including an aged leatherback sea turtle and a small sperm whale, both of which washed up and were stranded along the Jersey coast. Post-mortem examinations of the animals revealed whole deflated balloons lodged in their digestive tracts, he said. In the whale’s demise, a plastic foil-coated balloon was found intact in the stomach cavity.

“The balloon in the whale was later exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington as an example of something that could harm marine life,” said Schoelkopf.

He said marine mammals can’t distinguish such matter as inedible.

“Sea turtles are one of the main victims of released balloons because they can mistake them for jellyfish,” he said.

Schoelkopf also said balloons could be harmful to birds.

“The strings could get caught in trees or bushes,” he said. “Birds may become tangled if they fly into the string, or they may use the string as nesting material and it could tangle around growing hatchlings.”   

Schoelkopf said this is a time of year when balloons are frequently released.

“You have graduation parties and various celebrations,” he said. “Some businesses use them for grand openings. But if you do this by the shore, those balloons are going to eventually come down and, more often than not, will wind up in the water.”   

— Eric Englund

ericenglund@thesandpaper.net

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