Sunday, June 13, 2010

Beach Balloon Bingo — A Trashy Story

Peter and I spent our 10th anniversary last month on the South Fork of Long Island, home to the fabulous Hamptons. We had a bit of a mishap with the car we had borrowed from his sister, which caused us to spend a few unplanned hours walking the shore between Westhampton Beach and Quogue, while the car was being fixed. No problem. It was a beautiful weekday, the sun was shining, there was nary breeze, and the beach was empty, except for…

Balloons. We encountered our first washed-up helium balloon fairly soon into our walk. I picked it up, punctured it to get all the air out of it, shook off the sand, and stuffed it into an outer pocket of Peter’s backpack.

We soon ran out of backpack pockets. I happened to have on me my handy-dandy-trusty Chico bag (I carry one in every purse and backpack now), so I started stuffing in it the all the beach trash we found: soda cans, liquor bottles, bits of rubber tires, string, rope, and general marine detritus. But balloons were by far the most persistent trash item we came upon.

And unfortunately, they’re also the most insidious. According to Save the Whales, thousands of marine animals are killed every year by balloons that have escaped birthday parties, baby showers, and the like, and end up in our oceans. “Balloons are ingested by whales, dolphins, turtles, seals, fish and water-fowl, who innocently believe they are food such as jellyfish or squid.”

I knew about the dangers of balloons to marine mammal life before last week, but I never had such a vivid illustration of the pervasiveness of the problem. This beach was relatively pristine — I’m sure the multimillion-dollar home owners who live along it make a point of keeping it clean — so I can’t even imagine how many balloons end up on a really trashed-out shoreline.

I know balloons are fun and celebratory, but Save the Whales suggests equally festive alternatives, such as wind socks, kites, flowers. And if you do use balloons, avoid helium ones and use the old-fashioned kind that you blow up with your own breath. Those have far less a chance of ending up in the ocean than helium balloons.

You might ask what we did to dispose of our collection of balloons and other beach trash. I’m proud (or maybe a bit sheepish) to report that we dumped it in a garbage can of one of those multimillion-dollar homes. I’m sure the owner would have approved.

The way a beach should look (handsome guy included).

P.S. If you want to a see a really vivid portrait of beach trash, check out this online exhibition from

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Teresa, and so timely. The harm we pose to other creatures and the planet in our ignorance (and most often times willful ignorance) is unbelievably sad - and completely unnecessary.