Balloons ‘celebrate life with death’ as they kill birds, turtles and sea creatures

Cities consider bans on balloon releases

Many cities are passing their own ordinances banning the intentional release of balloons, which can kill turtles, birds and other animals.

What goes up, must come down — and that can be a big problem for our environment.

We don’t mean to be party poopers, but when it comes to celebrating or memorializing anyone with balloons, don’t let them go.

Every year thousands of birds, turtles and other sea creatures die because they’ve either eaten or gotten themselves tangled in balloon litter. It’s why more coastal cities are now stepping up to ban balloon releases.

On Thursday night, Sunny Isles Beach will become the latest Florida city to consider a ban.

Last week, Lauderhill passed its own balloon ordinance, prohibiting the intentional release of any balloons. That’s just like Hollywood, where signs are posted up and down the Broadwalk warning visitors that balloons are not welcomed here.

“I can’t stress enough: Let’s find another way to celebrate,” said Bette Zirklebach, manager of The Turtle Hospital in Marathon.

She said sea turtles are regularly found with balloons they’ve mistakenly eaten blocking their digestive tracks, causing them to starve to death.

“[Balloons look] a lot like a jellyfish and things that turtles eat,” Zirklebach said. “They are opportunistic feeders.”

The problem is so pervasive that in 2012 the state passed a law making it illegal to intentionally release more than 10 balloons in a 24-hour period anywhere in Florida, with penalties ranging from $250 to $1,000 for each offense.

Environmentalists say that law is not strong enough, because balloon releases keep happening.

“That state law obviously needs to be updated because any balloons are harmful,” said Catherine Uden, the South Florida rep for Oceana, a nonprofit fighting to protect our oceans and coastlines. “It’s really important to get the word out that balloon releases are not a good idea no matter where you are.”

Uden has successfully lobbied cities to pass their own balloon bans.

“People also have to understand that when you release balloons, there’s also the strings attached,” she said. “The strings are also very dangerous to wildlife. They can become entangled and choke on the strings.”

In fact, balloons are the most deadly form of litter for our marine birds.

And they don’t just litter our beaches and coastlines or fall from the sky. Irresponsible boaters also use balloons to decorate their vessels.

“Please do not tie balloons onto your boat, because if you don’t intend on releasing them, they can become loose in the wind, they will go straight into the ocean and they will harm wildlife,” Uden said.

Most intentional balloon releases happen when someone has passed away and loved ones want to memorialize them.

“We’ve had a lot of issues with that and we’ve been trying to give people alternatives,” said Dara Schoenwald, co-founder of “Things that they can do that’s a more positive way to recognize loved ones.”

Her nonprofit suggests cleaning a beach or a park in honor of a loved one instead.

“Why would we celebrate life with death?” said co-founder Dave Doebler. “And so by cleaning up the beaches, we’re protecting all the turtles and the birds and all the other critters that are out there from our destructive practices.”

“Honestly, I think most people don’t think about the harm that it causes,” Uden said. “So, think about the memory of your loved one and the kind of legacy you want to leave and try to think of something that will be less harmful to animals and the environment.”

Also, don’t fall for balloons falsely marked as environmentally friendly — that’s just greenwashing, no matter what they say. Balloons are not biodegradable.

The website has a list of alternative ways to celebrate or honor someone’s memory without releasing balloons.

About the Author:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.