A Tee to Curb Balloons

Rick Drew of the East Hampton Town Trustees held aloft a “balloon fish” made by his colleague Susan McGraw Keber. Christopher Walsh

The East Hampton Town Trustees, who award the William T. Rysam Fund scholarship to a graduating high school student for his or her college education each year, are developing a new source to benefit the fund. In the process, they also hope to raise awareness about the danger that balloons pose to marine life. 

At their June 25 meeting, Susan McGraw Keber, a trustee who is also an illustrator and cartoonist, displayed the “balloon fish” she designed, proposing that it illustrate a T-shirt that the trustees would sell at events including their annual Largest Clam Contest, usually held in September at their offices on Bluff Road in Amagansett, and the Fisherman’s Fair, held in August in Springs. 

Ms. McGraw Keber, who serves on the trustees’ education committee, displayed her design — a fish crafted from found balloons — at the June 25 meeting. She said that the impetus for her illustration was an effort to convey the message to children that balloons, which are popular at birthdays, weddings, and other celebrations, are hazardous to marine life. 

“Even balloons marketed as biodegradable or ‘eco-friendly’ can still take years to disintegrate,” according to the online platform One Green Planet. “When balloons make their way into the water, their tattered ends and floating pieces can resemble jellyfish or other sea life consumed by marine animals such as sea turtles, fish, and dolphins.” Pieces of latex or Mylar, mistaken for food and ingested, can get lodged in the digestive tract, inhibiting animals’ ability to eat and causing a slow and painful death by starvation, according to One Green Planet. Animals can also become entangled in balloon strings, which can injure or strangle them. 

The illustration is “a way to express to kids that balloons are very dangerous for wildlife,” Ms. McGraw Keber said. It is also a nod to the balloon fish, also known as the spiny puffer and spiny porcupine fish, which can inflate its body to discourage attack by predators, she said. “The next thing that came was the T-shirt idea. Since we have the Rysam fund scholarship, I thought this was a nice way to raise funds for it.” 

Capt. William J. Rysam came to East Hampton “around 1790, with his five or six daughters,” according to Hugh King, the East Hampton town crier, so that they could attend Clinton Academy, which was co-educational. He bequeathed the town a $500 fund in 1813, his will stipulating that the trustees were to apply the interest generated from it to “the schooling of poor children whose parents were not able to pay for such tuition,” according to trustee records. Interest earned on the fund balance, and the $1 entry fee for the Largest Clam Contest and its clam chowder competition, support the annual $500 scholarship. 

Applicants are required to submit an essay to the trustees, in which they typically describe the importance of the town’s natural environment and resources to themselves and their families. 

Ms. McGraw Keber said that the T-shirt will feature the illustration and a slogan along the lines of “Don’t feed fish balloons” on the front and “East Hampton Town Trustees” on the back. “We’re trying to get kids, parents, and real estate brokerages” — which often display balloons at open house events — “away from this, to make them understand our marine life is greatly affected,” she told her colleagues.