Reducing Balloon Litter Through Education and Outreach with the Joyful Send-off Campaign

Deflated balloons on a beach.
Balloons pose a risk to seabirds, sea turtles, marine mammals, and other aquatic wildlife. (Photo Credit: Joyful Send-off Campaign Partners)

The Coastal States Stewardship Foundation, on behalf of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean, will reduce the intentional release of balloons at celebratory events through the implementation of the Joyful Send-off community based social marketing campaign.

Type of Project: Marine Debris Prevention Grant

Region: Mid-Atlantic

Project Dates: August 2018- July 2021

Who is involved?
The Coastal States Stewardship Foundation on behalf of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean (MARCO) is working to reduce the intentional release of balloons throughout the Mid-Atlantic region (including the coastal states of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia). Beach monitoring and cleanups, focus groups, as well as vendor and venue outreach will occur throughout the region. Virginia partners will continue to implement the social marketing strategies that they developed 2015-2017 while broadening the geographic scope to the entire Mid-Atlantic Region. Additionally, balloon debris monitoring along Virginia’s Eastern Shore barrier islands will continue and be funded through the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program.

What is the project and why is it important?
Balloons are unique among all the man-made litter and debris found in the ocean and on land, in that balloons and their attachments (e.g. plastic ribbons, plastic valves and plastic disk) are a form of litter that people purchase often with the intent to release them on purpose into the environment. In a recent report by Wilcox, et al. (2016), when marine debris experts were asked to estimate which common litter items posed the greatest entanglement and ingestion risk to seabirds, sea turtles and marine mammals, balloons were ranked third after fishing gear and plastic bags/utensils.

The Joyful Send-off campaign strategy is informed by research funded by a previous NOAA MDP prevention grant that assessed the knowledge, attitudes and behavior surrounding balloon releases in Virginia. The Joyful Send-off Strategy currently focuses on connecting with venues and vendors and influencing the behavior of engaged couples who may be considering balloon releases as a wedding send-off. By engaging venues and vendors as partners, and increasing their knowledge of the impacts of balloon debris and alternatives to balloon releases, this project can make a significant impact across all five states.