Much like the effect of plastic bags which were banned in Antigua and Barbuda in 2016, balloons have the potential to significantly affect wildlife and, in particular, marine species.
“Balloons go up and they come down eventually and they come down normally in the water because that’s where the breeze blows so it goes out into the ocean,” said Arica Hill, executive director of the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG).
That is why Hill is calling for residents to take personal responsibility when hosting celebrations where there are balloon releases. She also wants government agencies to take the necessary actions needed to stop the practice.
“The thing about our whole world is that we are supported by wildlife,” she explained. “We are not supported because we have homes that are built with concrete or wood, we are supported because there are trees outside that keep the soil together, there are fish that make sure our coral reefs are clean so that we can actually eat from those coral reefs when there are thriving areas that we can fish.
“When you don’t have birds, when you don’t have marine life, it means that we don’t survive.”
Not only are many of these materials non-biodegradable, Hill said they are being eaten by turtles that mistake them for jellyfish and by birds who mistake them for fish and end up suffocating.
“I saw a study that said 90 percent of birds that do come across balloons they eat them. They look at it and they see a brightly coloured creature and assume that that brightly coloured creature is a fish,” she said.
Last month, Hill said she attempted to contact several government agencies in an effort to intervene in some balloon-release incidents. However, she was not satisfied with the responses the group received, saying that they were not assertive and passed the buck to the EAG to resolve the issue.
“It also sounds like the government is abdicating their responsibility,” Hill told Observer, stating that the EAG is not the agency to manage this type of environmental degradation.
“We are not a Solid Waste Management Authority, we have no legislation whereas there’s an Environmental Protection and Management Act, there’s the Litter Act, there’s the Central Board of Health Act – these are the agencies that have the power to do things about these situations and to me it was disturbing that there was not that immediate response,” she said.
In some places like Virginia in the United States, authorities are considering making the act of balloon releasing illegal, with conservationists arguing that it leads to litter in waterways and poses a threat to marine life.