Irish environmentalists slam balloon stunts

Campaigners in Ireland have written to Environment Minister John Gormley asking him to ban the mass release of balloons, a popular fund-raising practice with potentially fatal consequences for wildlife.

Releasing helium-filled balloons is a well-established way of raising funds in Ireland as it is elsewhere in the world.

But Friends of the Irish Environment have rekindled their campaign to have the practice banned after catching wind of a Dublin primary school’s plans to release thousands of balloons next week.

While there is a danger of coming across as killjoys, members of the pressure group point out that while the launch may be fun, the long-term consequences are anything but.

“It has been well established since a Canadian marine conference in 1989 that the release of gas filled balloons is an environmental hazard,” said a statement from FoIE.

“Balloons become ‘marine debris’, a lethal hazard for sea turtles, dolphins, whales, fish, and seabirds who mistake them for jellyfish or other natural prey. Balloons in seawater deteriorate much slower than those exposed in air, and even after 12 months still retain their elasticity with potential consequences to marine life.”

The group previously tried to prevent President Mary McAleese partaking in a memorial balloon release in 2005. At the time Environment Minister Dick Roche refused to prohibit mass balloon releases.

Balloon bans are not unprecedented, however.

San Francisco is one of many US coastal authorities to have banned the practice, and Britain’s Marine Conservation Society supports similar measures.

Sam Bond

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