There are seven sea turtle species on Planet Earth. Six are endangered. Rubber Jellyfish is a documentary about the surprising effects of helium balloons on sea turtles, sea birds and many other species including our own. In this deeply personal story, a mum to be meets key players fighting for and against the rights of the balloon industry, exploring the environmental effects of this most common symbol of childhood.
Six out of seven sea turtle species worldwide are endangered according to the IUCN Red List. In a 2012 publication out of the University of Queensland, Balloons were identified as being disproportionately consumed by sea turtles based on commonality of balloons as litter on Queensland beaches. In other words, the study found that sea turtles specifically target balloons. They concluded this was due to their similarity in appearance to jellyfish which is a prey all sea turtles eat – click here for the scientific paper
When helium balloons are released, many burst into jellyfish-like shapes, high in the Earth’s atmosphere (see trailer for a visual explanation). In most parts of the world balloon release ceremonies are legal and growing in popularity as a way to memorialise lost loved ones.
According to a spokesperson for Queensland, Australia’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP), helium balloons are not specifically prohibited in Queensland, nor is releasing them at special events such as funerals and memorials however (according to a spokesperson for the Department of Environement and Heritage Protection, “releasing these balloons into the environment without arranging ways of retrieving them following the release could constitute a littering offence under the Waste Reduction and Recycling Act 2011 . . . (however) the department has to date not fined any person or organisation (for releasing balloons)”
According to a spokesperson for the NSW Environmental Protection Agency, it is against the law to release 20 or more balloons at any one time in NSW. The penalty for releasing between 20 and 100 balloons is currently $1100. If more than 100 balloons are released, the penalties increase substantially to $3,300 for an individual and $5,500 for a corporation. If people are aware of a planned mass balloon release or see a mass balloon release they can report it to the EPA Environment Line on 131555. The EPA has declined to comment on why balloon releases of up to 19 balloons are permitted.