The balloon industry claims balloons degrade as fast as an oak leaf. If this were true, balloons would take up to four years to fully degrade - much too long a time for them to be around to be found and eaten by an unsuspecting animal.
Scientific studies have proven that sea turtles show a feeding preference for brightly colored balloons over other items such as clear plastic - and they do not pass through the digestive tract of a turtle in the normal time but have been proven to accumulate and may take up to four months to pass through (normal time is 10 days).
Releasing balloons into the air is the same as littering. The balloon industry claims balloons explode in many tiny harmless fragments when they reach a certain altitude, but the over 32,000 balloons picked up on beaches during a 1999 cleanup would indicate otherwise many return to earth intact. To understand how many balloons are being littered, during the 2016 Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup... enough balloons were collected to lift a walrus.
Many states (including Florida) and municipalities have banned balloon launches. Launches are widely regarded by many in the general public as very harmful to the environment and to marine animals. Promoting a balloon launch as part of their event will only attract negative publicity to an otherwise honorable cause.
10% of balloons don’t even pop they just gradually deflate and float back down to earth where they wreak havoc on wildlife on land, sea, and in the air. A beach litter survey organized by the Marine Conservation Society has shown the amount of balloons and balloon pieces found on the beach have tripled in the past 10 years.
Balloons and Sea Turtles
Dr. Peter Lutz, noted sea turtle biologist in Florida, published a study in 1990 on the ingestion of latex balloon pieces by sea turtles. It was presented at the Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Marine Debris. Dr. Lutz' study found:
When offered a mix of pieces of clear plastic and brightly colored latex, the turtles showed a strong preference for the latex pieces over the plastic. In experiments with latex only, sea turtles demonstrated that if their appetite is sufficient, they will actively swim towards and ingest latex materials, that all colors are acceptable, and that the amount ingested will depend on their nutritional state. The length of time that the latex remained in the turtle's intestinal tract ranged from a few days to four months, with a peak time period of eight weeks. (Note: the normal gut passage time in sea turtles is approx. 10 days.)
Turtles passed multiple pieces bound together, although they had ingested the individual pieces at different times, showing the possible cumulative effect of ingestion of latex balloon pieces. Evidence of Impacts: Scientists who work with stranded whales, dolphins, seals and sea turtles have been looking at the stomach contents of these dead marine animals. These scientists have found balloons, parts of balloons and balloon string during numerous necropsy.