Posted on June 22, 2020 by Helen Henderson, American Littoral Society
June is National Ocean Month and in celebration of protecting our ocean environment the City of Asbury Park has joined a regional effort to reduce marine pollution, with a special focus on balloon litter.
“Reducing the amount of marine debris and plastic pollution, including balloon litter, is so much greater when coordinated and carried out on a regional basis," said Asbury Park Deputy Mayor Amy Quinn. "We are proud to work with the American Littoral Society, other New Jersey coastal communities, and additional partners throughout the Mid-Atlantic region to help protect our ocean and marine life.”
The initiative involves partnership in the “Prevent Balloon Litter” website. Other participants include the American Littoral Society, along with environmental programs throughout the Mid-Atlantic region such as the Virginia Coastal Management Program, Clean Virginia Waterways of Longwood University, US Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coastal Management Program, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, and others.
The website is a resource hub for information about balloon litter and the steps everyone can take to prevent it. The mission of PreventBalloonLitter.org is simple: “Prevent. Balloon. Litter. Everywhere.”
The “Prevent Balloon Litter” site explains:
“Balloons are unique among all the man-made litter and debris found in the ocean and on the land because helium-filled balloons (and their attachments including plastic valves, disks and ribbons) are a form of litter that people actually purchase with the intent to release them into the environment. Some people make the connection that when balloons go up, they come back to Earth as potentially harmful litter. However, too many participate in balloon releases without making this connection.”
The website offers alternatives to balloon releases by providing “inspirational litter-free ideas to celebrate, to remember and to honor the people who impact our lives” to help protect waterways, our ocean, and marine life.
The Littoral Society believes that local leadership is imperative to maintaining the health of the environment and economy. As part of that, the Society created the Champions of the Coast program to show that real people, towns, and communities have the power to leave a positive, lasting legacy. The growing list of Coastal Champions act at the local level and lead the way on conservation of the ocean and coasts by supporting regional ocean planning to protect special marine places, opposing new offshore oil and gas drilling; and banning intentional balloon releases that pollute our beaches and waters.
In the fall of 2018, the city of Asbury Park became the sixth New Jersey municipality to be recognized as a Champion of the Coast by the Society. The recognition followed Asbury Park’s adoption of an ordinance banning intentional balloon releases, marking the third action in a series required by the Society to achieve Champion of the Coast status.
“We have a significant responsibility to provide leadership that will protect our coastal economy and a healthy ocean,” stated Asbury Park Mayor John Moor. “The collective Champion of the Coast actions put forth by the Society help us fulfill that responsibility.”
“The Champions initiative has always been about showing that our local communities support actions that are vital to the health of our coast and ocean,” said Helen Henderson, Ocean Program Manager for the Society. “Preventing pollution from balloon releases and educating about other forms of marine debris is a critical component to cleaner waters.
"We are grateful to have Asbury Park join us in support of this new website and continue to lead the way for healthy oceans in New Jersey and throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.”
Both the Society and Asbury Park see the new website and partnership as an excellent way to help people not only further understand the harmful effects of balloons to the environment, but also to offer alternatives to celebrate, remember, or honor individuals or groups – such as healthcare heroes and first responders – during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Additionally, they are reminding individuals to dispose of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) responsibly during this challenging time.
“While you protect your health and safety, please remember to also protect the environment by properly disposing of your gloves and masks in a trash receptacle,” said Henderson. “It’s an easy but important action for us all to help prevent further pollution entering our waterways and ocean.”
Beyond the Champions of the Coast program, the American Littoral Society supports regional ocean planning and works with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean (MARCO) on many issues, including as a member of the Marine Debris Workgroup.
MARCO was founded in 2009 by the Governors of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia via the signing of the Mid-Atlantic Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Conservation. The Agreement established the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean (MARCO) as a partnership to address shared regional priorities and provide a collective voice. The 5 states of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia work together on four shared regional priorities including climate change adaptation, marine habitats, renewable energy, and water quality.
The MARCO Marine Debris Work Group is focused on addressing the problem of marine debris by collaborating across multiple levels of government, with partners in the private sector, and with members of the public.
In 2017, the Work Group began their “Balloon Release Reduction Campaign” by convening a Mid-Atlantic Regional Marine Debris Reduction Workshop to develop options for a regional strategy to discuss potential regional projects and collaborations, and in 2018 MARCO received a NOAA Marine Debris Prevention Grant to complete a project to expand on Virginia CZM’s community based social marketing campaign to reduce mass balloon releases at celebratory events.
“Balloon marine debris is of immediate concern to the Atlantic Coast because of its potential deadly effects on marine wildlife through ingestion and entanglement” according to the website. “Balloons are unique among all the man-made litter because helium-filled balloons (and their attachments including plastic valves, disks and ribbons) are a form of litter that people sometimes purchase with the intent to release them into the environment.”