John Gormley, TD,
Minister for the Environment,
Customs House, Dublin
7 May, 2009 By email only: email@example.com
Re: Balloon releases from Irish schools
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.
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