Pupils in balloon launch boycott

PUPIL-power - sparked by a concern for the planet's sea life - left a Suffolk mass balloon-launch falling flat.

Richard Cornwell

PUPIL-power - sparked by a concern for the planet's sea life - left a Suffolk mass balloon-launch falling flat.

Children boycotted the release to raise funds for Trimley St Mary primary school - because they feared it could harm turtles, dolphins and whales.

The environmentally-conscious youngsters were afraid the balloons could be swallowed by marine wildlife mistaking them for food, which could kill the animals.

Last week a Springwatch programme on BBC2 highlighted the dangers suffered by marine life from litter in the sea. Presenter Kate Humble showed that latex from balloons is one of the most dangerous substances for marine life to swallow.

Organisers of the balloon release at Trimley St Mary Primary School said today they had been assured their balloons were safe to use. While they would not be holding another event in the near future, they could not rule out further similar events.

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Suffolk County Council said it had been encouraging schools and other organisations not to hold balloon releases because of the harm the pieces can cause to wildlife when they land.

Members of the Marinelife group, which is carrying out a survey of the North Sea between Felixstowe and Vlaardingen in Holland on board Norfolkline ferries, said they had found a worrying number of deflated balloons in the water and called for a ban on the use of helium balloons.

Just over 100 helium balloons were released at the primary school in Trimley High Road.

Sarah Saberton, of the school association, which organised the event, said: “We didn't sell as many balloons as we anticipated because many of the children were worried about the dangers of the balloons to animals and refused to buy them.

“The balloons we were using were filled with helium but they were made of biodegradable material so they should not harm wildlife, but I think the children were still frightened about the possible harm to animals.”

Money raised from the release is going towards projects at the school, particularly the upkeep of the swimming pool.

A county council spokeswoman said: “We don't have a policy and it is difficult because schools are self-governing, but we do try to discourage people where we can not to hold these balloon releases.”

Marinelife researcher and publicity officer Adrian Shephard said: “We would like to see a ban on the mass release of helium balloons as the consequences for our threatened marine life simply cannot justify their continued use in publicising events.”

- Should there be a ban on the release of helium balloons? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

FASTFACTS: Don't let the balloon go up . . .

- As the released balloons lose their helium, they sink lower and lower until they hit the water.

- The tides and currents disperse the deflated balloons throughout the oceans where they can be mistaken for food by a number of marine animals, including cetaceans (whales, porpoises, and dolphins), seabirds and turtles.

- The balloons get into the digestive systems of animals which have swallowed and interfere with food uptake which in time leads to a blockage.

- This at best weakens them and at worst leads to a slow and painful death due to starvation.

- The National Balloon Association has published guidelines about releasing balloons and claims that if they are properly inflated with helium they will burst high in the atmosphere into miniscule pieces of latex that will cause no danger to wildlife.

- The association said research showed a piece of a broken latex balloon ingested by a turtle would pass through the animal in the normal manner causing no harm whatsoever.