They have long been associated with celebratory occasions but wildlife advocates are pleading with Aussies to ditch party balloons.
A local woman from Ballina, 30 minutes south of Byron Bay, claims she has spent much of her time during the last two weekends picking up "every individual piece of tiny balloons" after families released and left them "strewn" across a park.
"There are still pieces I'm spotting in the gardens from last week," Jan Brady told Yahoo News Australia. "The park is a beautiful place for everyone to enjoy, don't be selfish, clean up after yourself please."
How are balloons 'lethal' for wildlife?
Balloons are dangerous to wildlife as they pose both entanglement and ingestion risks.
"When balloons fly away birds can get caught in the strings which will entangle them and make it difficult for them to fly, or get to the surface for air if they're in the water," Shane Cucow from Australian Marine Conservation Society told Yahoo.
As balloons can travel a far distance, it is not only wildlife in the area which are put at imminent danger when balloons are released. Balloons are "one of the most lethal plastics for our ocean wildlife".
In 2019 a wildlife group in Victoria shared distressing pictures of a penguin which died after becoming entangled with balloons and ribbon, and in May a cockatoo died in Sydney after being stuck hanging upside down from a a string caught in a tree.
Balloons being made from "stretchy" materials can easily create "life-threatening blockages" inside animal's bodies, posing a severe threat of suffocation. A research paper from the University of Michigan said seabirds are 32 times more likely to die from balloons than when hard plastics are ingested.
Stricter laws required in NSW and ACT
Every other state and territory in the country at least considers deliberate balloon releases to be littering, with the act being illegal in Victoria. Queensland are introducing similar laws on Friday which will render balloon releasing illegal in the state, however, more needs to be done in NSW and ACT.
"The law specifically allows people to release 19 balloons at a time [in NSW and ACT]," Shane explained. "It still occurs semi-regularly in NSW — particularly it often occurs for funerals and wakes or baby showers."
"Unfortunately we know that those balloons will fly a very long way from where they were released and will end up in our oceans... They really need to be phased out quite urgently."
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