GREEN

Balloons Travel Over 800 Kilometres, Wash Up On Lord Howe Island

Helium balloons have a devastating impact on our environment and are among the top three most harmful pollutants.

03/08/2017 11:39 AM AEST | Updated 07/08/2017 9:49 AM AEST

Whether it's a birthday party, wedding or memorial service, releasing helium balloons into the sky is a popular way of marking special events. But often we do so without a second thought as to where they end up, and it's having a devastating impact on the environment.

On Wednesday, a ranger from the Lord Howe Island Marine Park discovered three balloons had washed up on the shores of the UNESCO World Heritage site after travelling over 800 kilometres across the Pacific Ocean from south-west Sydney.

@tangaroablue / Instagram
A ranger on Lord Howe Island shared the photograph with Tangaroa Blue on Wednesday.

Heidi Taylor, chief executive officer of Tangaroa Blue -- a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the removal and prevention of marine debris -- told HuffPost Australia that while the finding is shocking, it's hardly surprising given the amount of waste humans produce.

"If you name it, I've found it," she said.

"[It's] not only the balloon clips [too] but the balloon ribbons -- all those items as well as the balloons themselves are causing impacts to wildlife."

While marine birds are mainly affected by the plastic and balloon-related rubbish, seals and sea turtles have also been observed as being impacted from time to time, including after becoming entangled in balloon ribbons.

The board of directors of the Liverpool Eid Festival -- where the balloons are from -- have apologised profusely, saying that they are "deeply sorry".

Southern Lightscapes-Australia via Getty Images
100 percent of baby birds on Lord Howe Island have some type of plastic in their stomachs, according to Zoos Victoria CEO Jenny Grey.

"This is an educational awareness for our organisation and we will be working actively to ensure that we no longer use helium in our balloons," the board of directors said in a statement.

"Liverpool Eid Festival will consistently strive to raise awareness in the community, encouraging participation and train employees in environmental matters."

Tim Silverwood, Environmentalist and co-founder of Take3 -- a movement encouraging people to take three pieces of rubbish with them when leaving the beach (or anywhere else) -- said that he hoped people would see the photo and be motivated to do more.

"It's a metaphor for our waste, it goes to show that a small action in one part of the world can have a big impact on another," he told HuffPost Australia.

We've got the opportunity, we've got the education and we've got the money to become leaders on this but we still fail to get the job done

"We think of this being out of sight, out of mind -- whether that's a plastic straw on the ground or a plastic bag in the breeze, or a balloon in the sky, it just reminds us that our pollution starts on land and has impacts far, far away.

"Lord Howe Island is a pristine place taking such great steps to reduce the plastic in order to save the seabirds that frequent the island but here we are. It's just heartbreaking."

Silverood also commented on his disappointment in the NSW Government's recent decision not to formally ban plastic bags, following announcements by Woolworths, Coles and Harris Farm Markets that from July 1 next year, single-use bags will be phased out.

"We can't be complacent," he said.

"We've got the opportunity, we've got the education and we've got the money to become leaders on this but we still fail to get the job done."

In 2016, a CSIRO study identified balloons, along with plastic bags and bottles, as among the top three most harmful pollutants, inspiring Zoos Victoria and Phillip Island Nature Parks to call on Australians to stop releasing them into the environment.

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Releasing balloons has a devastating impact on the environment.

Previously, Jenny Grey, CEO of Zoos Victoria, told HuffPost Australia that she experienced first-hand the devastation caused by balloons on Lord Howe Island's shearwater bird population, whose curiosity often works against them and causes them to feed on the plastic.

"Our litter is impacting the animal at such a great rate," she said.

"100 percent of the chicks on Lord Howe Island have some [type] of plastic in their stomach, it varies for some but some will die because of it.

"These baby birds are often found severely underweight and starving, with their stomachs full of rubbish including balloons and their attachments."

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