May 2008

Be A ‘Good Mate’ To The Environment
Mylar Balloons, Plastics Are Major Threats To Wildlife

A Coast Guard Auxiliary boat on patrol just off the coast of Southern California responded to what appeared to be distress signal mirror last month only to discover it was a Mylar balloon, the type used for birthdays and other good wishes. But, in this case, it diverted limited assets of the Coast Guard for naught.

Mylar balloons — because of their reflective tendencies — can be mistaken for a distress signal and cause rescuers to waste valuable resources investigating the source of what from several miles away can appear to be a distress-signaling mirror.

 Balloons in general are a particular nuisance because, when exposed floating in seawater, they deteriorate much slower than those exposed in air, and even after 12 months of exposure, still retained their elasticity.

So, remember with balloons: What goes up must come down! Balloons return to the land and sea or lake where they can be mistaken for prey and eaten by animals.

Balloons are hazards when they enter the aquatic environment because they can look a great deal like jellyfish — a major source of food for many animals. Sea turtles, dolphins, whales, fish, and seabirds have been reported with balloons in their stomachs. 

Balloons, are not the only marine environmental nuisances. Most plastics and other debris are a danger to the marine environment because they persist for extremely long periods of time: for example, Mylar balloons (centuries), derelict fishing gear (centuries), plastic bags (centuries), cigarette butts (two – 10 years), monofilament (600 years), plastic bottles (450 years), 6-pack holder (400 years), aluminum cans (200 – 500 years), and Styrofoam buoy (80 years).

Many people and organizations are recognizing the importance of being “green.” The Coast Guard Auxiliary is no exception.

Protecting the marine environment has long been one of the Coast Guard, Active Duty and Auxiliary’s, primary missions, and they are once again stepping up their outreach efforts to alert the public to the dangers of plastics in the marine environment.

 “The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary reminds boaters and the general public that marine debris is everyone’s concern and everyone’s problem,” said Pacific Area Commodore Lois Conrado.

What You Can Do To Reduce Marine Debris

The Coast Guard Auxiliary recommends the following practices that everyone can take to reduce plastics in the marine environment:

  • Never intentionally discard any item into the marine environment.
  • In fact, make it a practice of following the Plus One” program, where you bring all your own trash back ashore, plus at least one other piece of trash you find during your journey.
  • Tie loose items down — secure it, stow it.
  • Secure all plastic wrap and packaging – make sure they don’t blow overboard.
  • Practice the Three Rs - Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
  • Properly dispose of trash and fishing gear so that birds and other marine life don’t become entangled in it.  
  • Participate in, or better yet – organize a coastal cleanup programs in your community.
  • Buy recycled products with little or no packaging.
  • Keep cigarette butts off streets and beaches.
  • Cut the rings in plastic six-pack holders.
  • Set a good example and educate others about marine debris.

Under federal and state laws, it is illegal for any vessel to discharge plastics or garbage containing plastics into any waters. Regional, state or local laws may place further restrictions on the disposal of garbage. Each knowing violation of these requirements may result in a fine of up to $500,000 and six years imprisonment.