Balloon releases take a toll on wildlife

August 9, 2011

A loggerhead turtle entangled. Photo courtesy FWC.

Think twice before releasing balloons into our environment

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reminds event organizers and other Floridians about a law prohibiting the release of more than nine lighter-than-air balloons within a 24-hour period.

While releasing balloons is often an idea of groups that wish to honor an event or lost loved one, the FWC encourages the public to choose more environmentally responsible actions for their events.

Balloons released in Florida almost inevitably end up in the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean. Wildlife, especially sea turtles, mistake balloons for food, and strings attached to balloons can entangle birds and other animals. The release into the atmosphere of large numbers of balloons inflated with lighter-than-air gases poses a danger and nuisance to the environment, particularly to wildlife and marine animals. Violators could incur $250 in fines according to Florida law.

There are exceptions for scientific or meteorological balloons released by a government agency or under government contract, hot air balloons that are recovered after launching and balloons released indoors. The law also allows for the release of balloons that are biodegradable or photodegradable under FWC rules. Since 1989, the FWC has received only one such balloon design for review, and that balloon was not approved.