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Don’t mean to burst your balloon, but ...

49 children release balloons at a Bradenton vigil on June 15 in honor of the 49 people who lost their lives at the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. Balloon releases of 10 or more in a 24-hour period are illegal in Florida and have been for nearly 30 years.
49 children release balloons at a Bradenton vigil on June 15 in honor of the 49 people who lost their lives at the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. Balloon releases of 10 or more in a 24-hour period are illegal in Florida and have been for nearly 30 years.

What goes up must come down.

A romantic gesture. A touching remembrance. A larger-than-life celebration. Balloon releases can symbolize the happiest and most heartbreaking events.

But in Florida, they’re illegal and have been since 1989.

If 10 or more balloons are released at once, according to Florida Statute 379.233, it’s cause for a $250 fine. But law enforcement can only act on these infractions if they’re reported, which Fish and Wildlife Conservation officer James Boogaerts said there haven’t been many calls this year.

Who knows?

It’s not that there haven’t been balloon releases in Florida this year.

Eleutario “Junior” Salazar was in charge of the Bradenton Riverwalk vigil on June 15 for the Pulse shooting victims in Orlando, where 49 balloons were released by children to represent the 49 people who lost their lives.

“I know many people (release balloons) as a sentiment,” he wrote in a Facebook message, saying he personally did a similar balloon release for his late father. “But I had no idea that was a law.”

Bradenton Assistant Police Chief Josh Cramer said he wasn’t aware that balloons were going to be released at the event, and officers providing security at the event didn’t mention the release.

According to Cramer, city hall was only aware of the candles at the vigil.

“(I) told city hall in the future that if people were going to have an event to be cautious,” he said, noting to them that a balloon release of 10 or more wasn’t legal.

Over Mother’s Day this year, an officer off of the Upper Keys found 36 balloons in the water, according to a post on the NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Facebook page. According to the post, there’s a 70 percent chance that balloons will fall into the ocean once released.

Cramer said since he was notified about the release in Bradenton, he’s seen various events on the news with balloon releases, but didn’t know if they were authorized to do so.

According to Boogaerts, people can go before the court and ask for an order to release balloons.

Frank McCloy, media spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, said law enforcement will pick up balloons as they see them.

“It is frowned upon, but they probably have more pressing matters,” he said.

No big consequence for humans

It’s a different story for sea animals like turtles, for whom balloons can mean death.

Suzi Fox, director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, said most days when she’s on the beach, she’s picking up balloons and other plastic.

“When you let something go and don’t put it back in the trash, what do you think it is?” she said.

Plain litter, she said.

Turtles and other wildlife face critical times, with food sources depleted and habitat lost.

“Turtles will eat anything,” Fox said. “The water is their dinner plate.”

Fox said she volunteers with the FWC to perform necropsies at Eckerd College. One turtle had 26 pieces of plastic in its gut, some of it pieces of balloon.

“I would like to encourage people to celebrate events in a more wildlife-friendly way,” she said.

Officer Boogaerts encouraged anyone to report balloon release infractions they see, or any other environmental law violations, at the FWC Wildlife Alert Reward Program, 888-404-3922.

Hannah Morse: 941-745-7055, @mannahhorse

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