Fernandina Beach moves to prevent release of helium balloons

City Commission unanimously approves balloon-release ban

FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. – If you plan to release helium-filled balloons in any type of ceremony in Fernandina Beach, you may soon face fines.

The Fernandina Beach City Commission unanimously approved Ordinance 2019-19 on its first reading.

The ordinance bans the intentional release of balloons inflated with a gas that is lighter than air, which includes helium. Indoor balloon releases will still be allowed under the proposal.

Anyone caught violating the new ordinance will face a $100 fine. The ordinance is designed to protect wildlife, the environment, and to reduce pollution. It needs a second reading to become official. 

Researchers say while balloons may look nice, they have a number of environmental concerns associated with them. What goes up must come down. Balloons are hazards when they enter the environment. All released balloons, whether they are released intentionally or not, return to Earth as ugly litter, including those marketed as “biodegradable latex.”  

Balloons kill countless animals and cause dangerous power outages. They can travel thousands of miles and pollute the most remote and pristine places. Balloons return to the land and sea where they can be mistaken for food and eaten by animals. Sea turtles, dolphins, whales, fish and birds have been reported with balloons in their stomachs and ribbons and strings can lead to entanglement, causing death.

An Environmental Protection Agency report shows thousands of balloons are pulled from waterways and the coast. The EPA report says cleanups alone can’t solve this pollution problem. Nevertheless, the Ocean Trash Index provides a snapshot of what’s trashing our oceans so we can work to prevent specific items from reaching the water in the first place.

It is for that reason that a handful of states, including but not limited to California, Connecticut, Florida, Tennessee, New York, Texas, and Virginia, have recently passed legislation restricting the release of balloons not used in a scientific experiment.

Blue Ocean Society researchers have been recording debris observed from whale watch boats off the New England coasts for over eight years. Balloons have become the most common debris over the last five years.