Balloons festive but fatal to sea turtles, so cities begin to ban them
First they dimmed the lights along the coast to protect sea turtles.
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Now some cities and counties are willing to become party poopers to keep the threatened species safe, banning balloons in places where they’re most likely to cause harm.
« Once ingested, it’s most likely fatal for the sea turtle, » said Nicole Sharp, Broward’s natural resources administrator.
Fort Lauderdale became the latest city to take action on Tuesday, prohibiting balloons from the beach and other coastal parks, natural and aquatic areas, and marinas. The city is also requiring patrons using balloons at any other city park to deflate and properly dispose of the balloons afterward.
The action is tied to larger initiatives by the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach and the Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Program, which have been asking local governments to post educational signs about the dangers that balloons pose, or prohibit them altogether.
Dania Beach has signs on its pier prohibiting balloons there, while Hollywood has signs on its beaches discouraging people from having balloons.
Lantana recently made it illegal to hold or display helium-filled balloons anywhere outdoors — even on private property — unless it’s only for a brief period of time, such as when someone’s moving balloons from a car to a house.
Environmental leaders think children won’t miss seeing the festive inflations at their parties and may prefer alternative decorations if they know they’re pitching in to protect the turtles.
« Usually if they understand the damage the balloons can cause, they don’t have any problem omitting them from their parties, » said Demi Fox, of the Loggerhead Marinelife Center.
Stores that sell balloons are also becoming more sensitive to the issue.
Party City is teaming up with Wounded Nature, a volunteer group that removes debris from coastal areas, to launch an educational awareness and fundraising campaign Dec. 1.
« Party City recognizes its responsibility to encourage party cleanup, especially outdoors, » said Alycea Rea, a public relations spokesperson for the company.
Broward County initiated a balloon ban two years ago because of the threat to turtles, birds and other wildlife. The ban is at all the county’s natural and aquatic properties.
County Parks Director Dan West said « once the public understands the inherent dangers to wildlife, they have been very understanding and cooperative. »
There have been no reported violations that required park managers to call law enforcement, he said.
The Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton regularly treats injured turtles and frequently finds plastic in their digestive systems.
Environmental program coordinator Kristin Child said virtually all the post-hatchling turtles — about 2 to 4 inches long and generally less than a year old — that the center sees have plastic in them.
« The post-hatchlings are living at the surface of the water and they’re living in these weed lines where there’s this accumulation of all this material, including garbage, » she said.
While the young turtles may be eating things they’re supposed to, like little shrimp, they’re also taking in a lot of tiny plastic pieces, Child said.
« As it accumulates in their gut, it impacts them. They can’t pass it, and it could kill them, » she said.
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