I watched something the other day on TV that totally baffled me. A well-known college, I won’t say the name, seemed extremely proud of the 5,000 helium balloons they released before a football game. With the school colors brightly imprinted on each, the balloons flew towards the sun like a flock of tropical birds. I wondered, did anyone within this school’s faculty consider, or even care, where these 5,000 pieces of colored plastic trash were going land? That’s basically what a balloon is after it has been released — trash. Worst yet, did anyone in the stadium know how far these balloons could travel? I know — very far!

Living here on the Outer Banks is a dream. These are certainly some of the most beautiful barrier islands in the world. However, violent storms, hurricanes and blown-up helium balloons are no strangers on this coast. After a big storm with strong easterly winds, it’s almost impossible to walk 10 feet without seeing a balloon on the beach. Ribbon, strings and rubber remnants are everywhere. It’s evident that most of these “beach balloons” landed in the ocean and were washed onto the shore.

Further investigation of some individual pieces is quite stunning and revealing. The dates, captions and locations printed on them do not lie. Many were released during weddings and birthdays. Some have dates that suggest they have been around for years. The one balloon that was most astonishing to me came from a car dealership in Arizona. Could it have possibly traveled that far? Many other balloons with logos from places outside of our state’s border are proof these balloons come from far away.

The regrettable fact is how many balloons I find in just a small area. There’s a 1-mile of stretch of barren beach that I walk frequently. Once, after a big storm, it yielded nearly three trash bags of balloon waste! The “tide” balloons I call them. There are also “wind” balloons nearby. These are the half inflated ones found captured in the sand dunes and trees, entangled by their ribbons. They also sail on the ocean by the thousands every day.

Regardless of where they are found, that many lost balloons anywhere is disgusting and perhaps a horrific reflection of the hypocritical society we live in these days. A youngster cries if his balloon escapes his tiny fingers. However, 60,000 college kids cheer as 5,000 intentionally released balloons float off to pollute Earth. Sorry, but something is not right here.

These freed balloons are a hazard to a variety of wildlife. The half-inflated ones troll across the ocean with their attractive trailing ribbons that mimic jellyfish. They are sadly ingested by sea turtles, fish, whales and other creatures of the sea. Deflated balloons are found wrapped in coral reefs and in twisted mats of seaweed around the world. There are millions and millions at the bottom of our oceans — a very disturbing sight and an incomprehensible thought to say the least.

What do we need to do to alleviate this problem? First, we must begin to understand the consequences of our detrimental actions regarding the release of helium balloons into the atmosphere.

Is the unintentional harassment of the world’s wildlife worth watching rubber balloons disappear into the sky for a few moments?

The answer without question is no!

No one would think that this rubber trash would look good on a pristine beach either. Perhaps it’s time for one of these institutes of higher education to set an example. Take the cost of 5,000 helium balloons and donate that money to a respectable charity or maybe buy a new horn for the school’s band. Doing something wrong and pretending it is right is not what our youth should learn in college.

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