PADRE ISLAND, Texas — Valentine’s Day is around the corner. If you are planning on giving your significant other a balloon to express your feelings about them, think twice about how that balloon will be disposed of.
“That fleeting gesture can have a very lasting impact, because these balloons can be made out of materials like polypropylene, latex, mylar, and they’re designed to withstand fatigue; which means once they end up in the environment, they can last a long time,” said Dustin Baker, the Lead Ranger for the Interpretation and Education Division at Padre Island National Seashore.
Not only are the materials the balloons are made out of long-lasting, and harmful to the environment, the balloons themselves can cause problems to local wildlife.
“Many marine animals can mistake these items for food, and if consumed, can cause immediate asphyxiation,” Baker said.
Balloons can make their way into the water, where Baker says animals can mistake the floating plastic for a jellyfish, or the string can get caught around the body of an animal, and can cause problems, including drowning for birds and marine mammals.
Last year, the Ibarra family, from Portland, was visiting the park, when on their way home they picked up just some of the balloons they saw.
On the way back we started seeing balloons around our campsite and on the drive back. [My son] Andrew made it a game and made us stop to collect them each time we came across one. We didn’t get all the balloons...some of the sand was sketchy for driving, but I took a photo at the end because we were just shocked at how many we picked up,” said Viv Ibarra.
In total, they collected more than 60 balloons. Baker said this is just a snapshot of the amount of debris that washes up on the beach.
“That’s just one family, do a modest cleanup, on a 70 mile stretch of beach,” he said.
The park offers visitors free garbage bags, should they want to collect any garbage they come across. It also hosts events to clean up the beach.
“Just this last weekend, we had the adopt-a-beach cleanup here, we had about 100 volunteers, and we estimate we picked up around 3,000 pounds of trash,” Baker said.
On Feb. 27, the Padre Island National Seashore will host the Billy Sandifer Big Shell Cleanup. While the deadline to register in order to receive a commemorative t-shirt has passed, volunteers are always welcome.
Two visitors to the park, Dora and Steve Davis, came from Spokane, WA to visit the area. They said it takes a group effort to keep the beaches clean.
“I’m very cognizant when I walk the beach about the trash being out there, and I really like the fact that I’ve seen quite a few people take advantage of the litter bags that are posted, and people are actually picking up trash,” Dora Davis said.
Baker urges people to do their part to keep the beaches clean, and the local wildlife safe.
“This Valentine’s Day, show how big your heart is, show how much you care about the Coastal Bend, and the beaches that we all love to visit, by keeping debris off of them,” he said.