John Gormley, TD,

Minister for the Environment,

Customs House, Dublin

7 May, 2009                                      By email only: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Re: Balloon releases from Irish schools

 

Dear Minister;

 

We write seeking your support to end a growing practice in Dublin schools of using gas filled balloons in mass releases to raise funds.

 

Primary schools provide their students with balloons for sale, each of which is tagged with the student's identification. There are then prizes for the students who sold the balloon that went furthest - presumably intact - and for the person returning it.

 

Vendor's claim that balloons are ‘biodegradable' and ‘self combust within a month' and that ‘95% of the balloons burst into harmless fragments at heights up to five miles above the sea'.

 

In fact balloons in seawater deteriorate much slower than those exposed in air, and even after 12 months still retain their elasticity with potential consequences to marine life.  5% - 10% become 'marine debris', a lethal hazard for sea turtles, dolphins, whales, fish, and seabirds who mistake them for squid or other natural prey.

 

The school to which we are writing now [letter attached] reports that one Dublin school reported reaching as far abroad as Norway. They speak of the ‘spectacular event' and the ‘amazing' sight of ‘several thousand' balloons released during similar events at other schools.

 

Since a Canadian marine conference first brought this and related wildlife risks to notice in 1989, the mass release of balloons at public and corporate events has been increasingly controversial. San Francisco is one of many US coastal authorities to have banned the practice, and Britain's Marine Conservation Society supports similar measures.

 

At the time of a mass balloon release by Mary McAleese in 2005, Trevor Sargent sought to have the then environmental Minister, Dick Roche, ban these releases. While the Minister agreed in a written parliamentary reply that ‘there have been reports of marine animals found with balloons in their stomachs', he went on to say that he understood that ‘balloons form an extremely small percentage of potentially hazardous marine debris' and so it was ‘not proposed at present to introduce legislation prohibiting the mass release of balloons.' [23875/05]

 

In fact, a study on Cape Cod, on the eastern United States seaboard, reported balloons as the fourth most numerous item in its survey of marine debris. If Dublin schools continue this practice, there is no doubt that Ireland will contribute further to the problem.

 

We would hope you would reexamine your predecessor's decision and ensure that students in particular are made aware of the established environmental damage done by these increasingly popular school fund raisers.

 

Respectfully yours,

 

Tony Lowes


 

PRESS RELEASE

FRIENDS OF THE IRISH ENVIRONMENT

WEDNESDAY 7 MAY 2009

 

SCHOOL BALLOON RELEASES CRITICIZED

 

Friends of the Irish Environment have written to a Dublin primary school in an attempt to stop the growing trend of schools using mass balloon releases for fund raising.

 

On May 14 Mount Anville Primary School in Stillorgan plans to release thousands of balloons as part of their fund raising activities.

 

Each student gets a sales sheet and tries to sell as many balloons as possible. The balloons are tagged with a message asking the finder to return the label. Prizes are given to the buyer and seller of the balloon.

 

It has been well established since a Canadian marine conference in 1989 that the release of gas filled balloons is an environmental hazard.

 

Balloons become 'marine debris', a lethal hazard for sea turtles, dolphins, whales, fish, and seabirds who mistake them for jellyfish or other natural prey.

 

The group previously tried to prevent President Mary McAleese partaking in a memorial balloon release in 2005. ASt the time Environment Minister Dick Roche refused to prohibit mass balloon releases.

 

San Francisco is one of many US coastal authorities to have banned the practice, and Britain's Marine Conservation Society supports similar measures.

 

The group has also written to John Gormley, the current Minister for the Environment, seeking to have him reexamine his predecessor's decision and ensure that students in particular are made aware of the established environmental damage done by these increasing popular school fund raisers.

 

Verification: Tony Lowes 027 73131 / 087 2176316

Mount Anville Primary School 01-2831148

 

Letter to school

http://www.friendsoftheirishenvironment.org/friendswork/index.php?do=friendswork&action=view&id=767

 

Letter to Minister

 

 

Ryan Tubberdy and FIE discuss balloons as an environmental hazard at the time of the 2005 controversy

http://friendsoftheirishenvironment.org/friendswork/index.php?action=view&id=505

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