Posted by: The ocean update | April 7, 2016

Gibraltar ends annual balloon release on environmental grounds (UK)

Gibraltar’s annual balloon release is one of the biggest of its kind in the world. Photograph : Mark Attard/Alamy

Gibraltar’s annual balloon release is one of the biggest of its kind in the world. Photograph : Mark Attard/Alamy

April 7th, 2016. British overseas territory stops 24-year national day tradition because of threat to marine life

Gibraltar has ended a 24-year tradition of releasing thousands of white and red balloons on its national day after campaigners warned of the impact on marine life.

The British overseas territory’s balloon release each September was one of the biggest of its kind in the world.

Lewis Pugh, endurance swimmer and UN patron of the oceans, who has been lobbying organisers and local ministers since February to end the historic event for environmental reasons, said: “Balloon releases pose a serious threat to the world’s wildlife by adding to the alarming levels of marine and terrestrial plastic pollution.

“Ending the tradition will not just help protect the wildlife, seas and farmlands around Gibraltar; it also sends a powerful message to the organisers of the few remaining mass balloon events that take place around the world.”

The Self Determination for Gibraltar Group, which organises the national day and release, said in a statement : “Over the years … the release of balloons as part of the festivities has become an important part of the day. Seeing the red and white balloons floating in the sky has evoked passion and sentiment in a huge number of Gibraltarians as the symbolic representation of our freedom.

“There has nevertheless been a growing number of credible national and international organisations and people who, in particular over the last few years, have highlighted that releasing helium-filled balloons is likely to be harmful to the environment and animals.”

Gibraltar is not alone in cancelling balloon releases over environmental concerns – in the UK, similar events have been cancelled in Northumberland, Dorset and Norfolk.

The UK-based Marine Conservation Society warns that once the balloons float back down to the sea, they are: “mistaken for food by many species of wildlife, particularly turtles. Once balloons have been eaten they can block digestive systems and cause animals to starve. The string on balloons can also entangle and trap animals.”

The Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society and the Environmental Safety Group, a Gilbraltar-based NGO, have been campaigning for an end to the balloon releases for a decade. Brian Reyes, the editor of local newspaper the Gibraltar Chronicle , wrote that while the balloon release was an “serious, emotive issue”, there “is no hiding from the fact that plastic damages the environment.”

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