My internship at Whale and Dolphin Conservation is based in Plymouth, Massachusetts, so this place has become my summer home. Contrary to what I’m used to, the 4th of July is a pretty big deal here. Actually, let me rephrase that. The 4th of July is a huge deal here. I’ll restate that I’m in Plymouth, Massachusetts, aka, the birth place of America, the first frontier, the home of the Plymouth Rock (a very small rock I found out), a symbol of our independence, and the entire root of our Patriotism. So yeah, the fourth is big deal. And I’m glad it’s a big deal; everyone’s excited, locals light off fireworks all week, and WDC constructed an incredible whale float for the big parade. Early on the 4th, we prepped the float and had everyone geared up to march by 8:30, looking great in WDC tees, but as we waited for the parade to begin, I had already seen several balloons drifting off into the sky. I couldn’t help but think of them floating on the ocean surface, bobbing up and down with the swell. I wondered if the person that had released it, whether on purpose or by accident, knew of their balloon’s possible fate, because it probably wasn’t going to be a trash can.
Skip ahead a few days to July 6th, when the celebrations had died down and it was back to the daily grind. I was on a whale watching boat out of Barnstable harbor, one that shares Plymouth’s waters. After a weekend of high-traffic boating and festivities, whales were certainly not the first thing we were finding. An hour or so after leaving the dock, I spotted the first balloon of the day, and I found it to be particularly ironic because this balloon was the pattern of an American flag. I thought back to the parade and all the balloons I watched drift away, and here I am now looking at a downside to the festivities, floating in our ocean as a severely underrated aquatic threat.
With the ability to be mistaken for food, this balloon could be ingested by a seal, turtle, or whale, or entangle a sea bird in its ribbons. All scenarios would result in painful complications and possibly death. As you can imagine, mylar is neither easy to ingest or digest, and many animals will starve as the balloon blocks their esophagus or have compromised digestion. I know that this sounds like another environmental fact where everything results in demise and it’s horrible because there’s nothing you can do about it. Except that there is. While the situation is dismal – the solution is simple! Hold on to your balloons!
Whether it’s the 4th, the 10th, your uncle’s birthday, your parents’ anniversary, your second cousin’s citizenship celebration, a friend’s baby shower, or the 7th annual Baldwin family reunion, don’t let your balloons go, pop them when you’re done and throw them away. And while you’re at it, tell a friend or ten to do the same. Better yet, consider switching out the big balloon bouquet for some streamers. Your party will still be fantastic and you won’t contribute to ocean plastic (or marine debris). It’s a win-win. In all honesty, there isn’t a bigger favor you could do for our environment than making small, simple changes that echo into large, positive outcomes. So hold your balloons a little tighter and tie your knots a little stronger, and when the 4th of July rolls around again we can celebrate our independence while enjoying a decrease in marine debris.