VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Balloons are killing animals on land and in water, according to researchers at the Virginia Aquarium. And now a lawmaker from Virginia Beach is hoping to ban the release of helium balloons into the air.
“We’ve found balloons inside endangered sea turtles, inside marine mammals, entangled in birds and in huge numbers along our barrier beaches, along the oceanfront of Virginia,” said Mark Swingle, director of research and conservation at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center.
Balloons are among the top three forms of litter, according to Swingle, who, in two years of research, discovered more than 4,000 balloons on Virginia beaches.
“Any balloon release is potentially damaging to the environment or an animal in the environment, and it’s just not worth it,” Swingle said.
An existing bill already prohibits the release of 50 or more helium balloons in an hour. Swingle said the current law is not working to create a better environment for animals. He believes it’s time for a change, and the proposed bill sponsored by Sen. Jeff McWaters would do just that.
McWaters’ bill would ban the intentional release of balloons, and violators would be subject to a $5 fine per balloon. McWaters said this measure is less about enforcement and more about promoting the message to keep our waterways clean.
“I think it’s more of an awareness, to make sure we keep our beach clean, our bays clean and protect wildlife,” McWaters said.
Helium has carried the balloons to coastal Virginia from near and far.
“We’ve found balloons on Virginia Beaches from Ohio, West Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland [and] a lot of other places,” Swingle said. “When you see an animal that’s been severely impacted or has died from ingestion of human debris, then you know you can do something about that.”
The balloon release bill has already passed the Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee in Virginia’s Senate. The full senate will vote on the bill Feb. 9, before it heads to a house committee.
For more information about balloons and wildlife, visit http://www.BalloonsBlow.org