An ‘Eye-Opening’ Haul of Balloons on Beaches Here

Jane Bimson

Two hundred and twenty balloons have been collected from East Hampton Town beaches in the course of 15 beach cleanups organized by the Surfrider Foundation’s Eastern Long Island chapter this year, and each represents a hazard to wildlife, the group’s clean water coordinator told the East Hampton Town Trustees on Monday. 

Colleen Henn read a list of statistics detailing the amount of litter collected from the town’s beaches this year and suggested that the trustees urge the town board to follow the lead of several coastal municipalities in New Jersey by banning the intentional release of balloons. 

More than 4,400 pounds of debris have been collected from the town’s coastline this year, Ms. Henn told the trustees, describing what was found as “eye-opening and terrifying.” Part of the problem, she said, stems from the fact that Suffolk County law allows an individual to intentionally release 25 balloons in a 24-hour span. “All of us could go outside right now and release 25 balloons per person, and do it again tomorrow night,” she said. 

Susan McGraw Keber of the trustees, who earlier this year designed a T-shirt depicting a fish crafted from found balloons in order to illustrate the danger they pose to marine life, said that 33 balloons were among the 610 pounds of trash collected at the Surfrider Foundation-hosted cleanup of beaches, brush, and parking areas between East Lake Drive and Turtle Cove in Montauk on Friday. 

Marine animals can mistake balloons for jellyfish and ingest them, blocking the digestive tract and causing a slow and painful starvation. Wildlife can also become entangled in balloons’ ribbons or strings, another cause of mortality. 

A ban on the intentional release of balloons would target such events as weddings and graduations at which the practice is common, and not, for example, a child accidentally letting go of a helium-filled balloon, Ms. Henn said. On Block Island the Town of New Shoreham banned the sale and use of balloons, citing their “risk and nuisance to the environment, particularly to wildlife and marine animals,” according to the amendment adopted in April. 

The trustees were amenable to the suggestion that they encourage a ban on the intentional release of balloons. “We might even, as a group, feel we could go farther,” said John Aldred. In addition to urging the town board to take action, the issue might be brought to the attention of Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, the trustees said. The trustees told Ms. Henn that they would discuss the matter in the coming weeks. 

In other news from the meeting, the trustees are planning a publicity effort to recruit help in next year’s mosquito larval sampling program in areas surrounding Accabonac Harbor. This year’s effort, a joint venture that brought together the trustees, the county, the Nature Conservancy, and the town’s Natural Resources and Planning Departments, resulted in the dramatically reduced application of methoprene, a larvicide that conservationists fear is harmful to nontarget species including crustaceans. 

Sampling took place on Monday mornings this year. Next year’s effort, which may include some sampling on Thursdays, will begin in June and continue through August or September, Ms. McGraw Keber said. Applicants must be at least 18 years old and possess a driver’s license.