Diving instructor calls for balloon and sky lantern releases to be banned

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Rosemary E Lunn, aka Roz Lunn, an Associate Member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame and a SSI Platinum Diver recipient, is calling for support to get balloon and sky lantern releases banned.

I’ve been diving in and round the UK for over two decades. For several years, I along with many of my friends and colleagues, have known about the plastic pollution crisis – we routinely ‘dive against debris’ and take part in beach and seabed clean ups. And thanks to Blue Planet 2 the public are finally realising we have a problem.”

Positive things are happening. Microbeads now banned in some products in England and Scotland, and it looks as though plastic straws and plastic ear buds will be banned too. There is also a vigorous debate going on about one-time-use plastic packaging. However one piece of litter literally on the rise is debris from balloon and sky lantern releases.

Balloon releases are conducted to raise awareness – the sex of a baby, a wedding, a charity – or to pay respect to someone’s legacy. This is is ironic because it just creates sky litter that can kill, entangle or maim. Regrettably education only goes so far, hence we have seen the introduction of the sugar tax. Some people will still carry on releasing balloons and sky lanterns no matter how much or often you advise them it’s not good for animals or the environment.

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about ‘biodegradable’ balloons. So many people think that if they use these balloons then that is ok, but sadly there is no such thing as an environmentally friendly latex balloon. They take fewer years to rot down, but they can still kill wild, farm and marine life before they decompose.

Dr. Lydia Uddstrom necropsy of a Green Sea Turtle having eaten Biodegradable balloon

A number of divers have been actively campaigning to get balloon releases banned, aw well as organisations including the Marine Conservation Society. Earlier this year many of us were pushing a petition asking the Government to ban balloon and sky lantern releases. It garnered 30,000 signatures very quickly. However DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) responded and ‘killed’ the momentum by stating “they considered the current regulatory regime, supported by existing information and guidance, effective and proportionate.”

Unfortunately DEFRA quoted from a Government Report http://bit.ly/2GcuEU0 – they had commissioned in 2013 to assess the impact and risks that balloons and sky lanterns have on livestock and the environment. In 2013 this environmental impact was judged as low. That was five years ago. Roz Lunn says she is now routinely picking balloon litter out of the hedges.

A new peer-reviewed study by Delia M. Webb has just been published that reveals 2,223 pieces of balloon litter were found on 39 beaches across Cornwall between July to December 2016. The study entitled “Just a balloon? A local study of the extent and impacts of balloon litter on beaches” has reported that some of the balloons found on Cornish beaches had travelled from other parts of the UK, Ireland and Europe.

We know that balloon litter and debris can kill and maim farm, wild and marine life. Ponies have been found choking to death, skeletons of dead birds are discovered entangled in balloon ribbon and turtles have starved to death having snacked on balloons thinking they were jelly fish. There really is no need for this mass littering.

Roz has therefore launched another balloon release petition asking Parliament to ban this anti-social practice. At the time of writing this the petition has received 29,485 signatures – see https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/215782. The Government’s response has been to effectively kick the can down the road by again referencing the 2013 study and saying everything is fine. We now have verified research that is no longer the case, and 70,000 signatures are needed by September, so that Parliament can consider debating this issue.

So please take a moment and sign the petition. Write to your MP and start making noises that balloon and sky lantern releases are bad. Together the voice of British scuba divers can make an environmental difference.

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown are a husband and wife team of underwater photographers. Both have degrees in environmental biology from Manchester University, with Caroline also having a masters in animal behaviour. Nick is a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in underwater wildlife photography and he also has a masters in teaching. They are passionate about marine conservation and hope that their images can inspire people to look after the world's seas and oceans. Their Manchester-based company, Frogfish Photography, offers a wide range of services and advice. They offer tuition with their own tailor made course - the Complete Underwater Photography Award. The modules of the course have been written to complement the corresponding chapters in Nick's own book: Underwater Photography Art and Techniques. They also offer equipment sales and underwater photography trips in the UK and abroad. For more information visit www.frogfishphotography.com.

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