A balloon drifting by itself: It’s a bit of a sad image. Perhaps we remember when we were children and had a momentary lapse in attention that resulted in such a loss.
Some people use balloons to represent a loss in a different — and much more intentional — way. They attach letters or notes to the balloons, generally addressed to loved ones who have departed, and send them skyward in an act of faith.
At times, these balloons find their way in front of eyes they weren’t meant for, but that’s when we hear about them. Many people who’ve found balloons with notes have reached out to the senders (usually children) to encourage them or, in one case, buy them the school supplies they needed but couldn’t afford.
But there’s another way balloons mix with loss, and that’s by directly causing it. Even balloons sent with the best of intentions can end up killing a variety of animals.
In the water, balloons and other plastics look like jellyfish or some edible sea creature, and they get snapped up and eaten. They can cause death immediately or over time, as critters ingest more and more plastic.
In a bid to bring awareness to this issue, the Surfrider Foundation Broward County Chapter posted on Facebook over three years ago to explain why people should stop letting balloons go — but the message is just as relevant now as it was then.
“Balloons do not go to heaven,” the post began. “They land in the ocean and choke sea turtles, kill dolphins and whales, and the ribbons entangle birds.”
“Many times, they end up on a beach as litter. Even the balloons marked ‘biodegradable’ can hurt animals before they have a chance to break down.”
In case people think only sea creatures (out of sight, out of mind, and not pets) suffer from this litter, the group said that even domesticated land animals have been hurt by discarded balloons.
“Animals far from the ocean, such as horses, have been hurt and killed by balloons (they eat them when they land in their hay or they get spooked and bolt). Some balloons have started fires when they got entangled in power lines. Balloons blow. Don’t let them go!”
According to a website called “Balloons Blow,” there are other harmful activities that are similar to balloon releases, which include dove, butterfly and sky lantern releases. All of these are either potentially harmful to the animals participating, harmful to the environment, or a fire hazard.
They do suggest some alternatives, though. A memory garden or tree will improve the environment, bubbles are fun, and streamers and signs can be reused. There are plenty of ways to honor a loved one without potentially causing suffering to others.
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