City of St. Augustine bans release of balloons into the air

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — The City of St. Augustine is taking steps to protect the environment and wildlife from balloons.

You wouldn’t expect balloons to bring anything but joy. In reality, these party favors can do some serious damage to the environment.

“Ultimately what they do is they end up, mostly, a lot of times, in the waterways,” City of St. Augustine Commissioner Barbara Blonder said.

Balloons also pose a danger to life on and off the coast.

“It’s a shiny object, it’s going to attract [their] attention; mylar balloons in particular will attract the attention of the sea turtle, for example, because many of our sea turtles mistake them for food,” Blonder said.

Now, a new city ordinance in St. Augustine is banning the intentional release of helium balloons in the air within city limits, calling balloons “one of the most common and destructive forms of floating garbage.”

Individuals can be fined $100 for doing so.

“The idea really is to educate people, though, not to be punitive, not to punish people,” Blonder said.

Officials believe prohibiting the release of balloons will protect the land, air and waters of the city.

Volunteers on the Litter Gitter, a program of Matanzas Riverkeeper, collect up to several hundred pounds of trash a week. A lot of that trash comes from deflated balloons, which can be deadly for marine animals.

“What comes up must come down. So once these things float around for a while, they eventually pop and they end up falling down either in our natural areas or in our rivers and streams,” Matanzas Riverkeeper Jen Lomberk said.

Experts said balloons are the deadliest debris for sea birds and the third deadliest to sea turtles and marine mammals. Countless animals become entangled in the string or try to ingest the balloon itself. Sea turtles mistake deflated balloons for jellyfish.

“Obviously, they’re not able to digest them, so they get caught up in their digestive tract and can either cause the animal to become ill or eventually die,” Lomberk said.

Conservation officials showed us hundreds of balloons collected in area waterways.

“It’s really just the tip of the iceberg, the balloons that I sent you pictures of,” St. Johns Soil and Water Conservation District Chairman Nicole Crosby said.

The work doesn’t stop in St. Augustine. The next step: the entire county and eventually the state of Florida.

“I’ve been collecting these signed petitions so citizens that live in St. Johns County, and (who are) over the age of 18, I’m asking to sign these petitions,” Crosby said.

You can find the petition here.

Officials ask you to print it out, fill it out, and email it to info@NeverEndangerSeaTurtles.com or mail it to N.E.S.T., P.O. BOX 2111, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL 32004.

The Litter Gitter

City of St. Augustine Memorandum

QUICK FACTS:

  • A new city ordinance in St. Augustine is banning the intentional release of helium balloons in the air within city limits, calling balloons “one of the most common and destructive forms of floating garbage.”
  • Officials believe prohibiting the release of balloons will protect the land, air, and waters of the city.
  • Experts say balloons are the most deadly debris for sea birds and the third most deadly to sea turtles and marine mammals.
  • Latex and mylar balloons kill countless animals that become entangled in the string or try to ingest the balloon itself.