As fall approaches, it signals the seasonal beginnings of celebration. When we celebrate truly important events in our lives, like holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, babies being born and more, could we be putting wildflife and the natural environment at risk?
Many of you are familiar with Caliso ambassadors Taco, Guacamole, and Rufus, our desert tortoises. Something easy to demonstrate to visitors is the attraction of a piece of deflated balloon placed on the ground or hanging from a cactus pad looking just like cactus fruit or a colorful blossom—two of the desert toroise’s favorite foods. 10 times out of 10, our tortoises will go investigate the popped balloon and sometimes even try to eat it (of course they never get the chance to get it near their mouth). The point is to demonstrate that the fun and festive act of releasing balloons can have a devastating effect on native critters on land or in the sea many, even hundreds of miles away. These balloons simply look like the prey or plant food sources that many species rely on for their survival. Instead animals might ingest a balloon causing sickness and death because of blockages from this indigestable material—resulting in a preventable scenario of an animal that starved to death.
We’re not suggesting we should ban balloons. Or should we? Balloons can be celebrated with, if we don’t let them go! Pop them first. But that’s not a guarantee. We’ve never used balloons at our community booths as a stand against them. Yet, just last month we celebrated my son’s 4th birthday and we had balloons for his indoor party. About half way through the party, the thought occurred to me that it is possible one or more of these balloons that go home with a child could be accidently released. Ugh. Feeling the shame.
In a similar example I came across an article about Sky Lanterns, or Chinese Lanterns. These are rounded paper lanterns with a lit candle inside which are released into the night sky. It’s makes for a beautiful, celebratory moment. But lately in the UK farmers are complaining about the lanterns becoming a big enivornmental hazard, seen as floating potentials for setting wildfires because they frequently fall back down to the ground smoldering or actually on fire (despite the flame-resistent paper it’s made of). Equally devasting is that the thin wire (used to make the lanterns, which the paper is wrapped around) is being picked up and cut up in harvesting machines for feed then being consumed by cattle, becoming a lethal needle inside the animal. In addition, these lanterns are often mis-identified as distress flares and UFOs.
So what are we to do about these festive accessories? How culturally significant are balloons and lanterns and should that be considered? Many communities are banning plastic shopping bags as a responsible solution to trash problems and wildlife injuries.
What is the right solution for balloons or sky lanterns? We want to hear from you! Share your thoughts with us—or simply start a conversation about it at your next family meal.