Cape Hatteras National Seashore (CHNS) personnel who patrol the Bodie Island, Hatteras Island, and Ocracoke Island beaches collected a total of 1,786 balloons along the shoreline in 2023.
CHNS biological technicians and other staff regularly pick up trash while working on the beaches, but collecting and tallying balloons specifically is a somewhat new endeavor that started in 2022, when a total of 733 balloons were removed from the beach during the year.
Balloons are singled out for an annual tally because they are so wide-ranging and potentially harmful to wildlife.
Floating balloons often resemble food, and animals may die of starvation if ingested balloons block their digestive tract.
Per the Ocean Conservation Society, several species of sea turtles and seabirds are particularly threatened by this type of pollution – even more so than hard plastic – because balloons and balloon fragments are easily mistaken for normal food sources.
In addition, (and further inland), entanglements can occur with birds that encounter the strings that are attached to discarded balloons. For example, osprey and other species can come in contact with balloon strings by picking up material that may have manmade garbage involved, and then using the material to build their nests.
“Balloons are a common source of celebration and joy, but they can also have consequences when released outside,” stated CHNS in an update. “Before you let those balloons soar, think twice! There are many ways to celebrate without potentially harming the environment.”