Laguna Beach nears ban on public use, sale of all balloons – Orange County Register

The Laguna Beach City Council is considering a ban on its use on public property and the sale and distribution of all balloons, whether Mylar or hand-blown, which local environmentalists say would set an example for other coastal cities to follow.

If approved on Feb. 21, violators could face fines ranging from $100 to $500, officials said. City officials planned a campaign on social media and the city’s website, as well as advertisements, to spread the word.

Three local grocers – Pavilions, Ralphs and Gelsons Market – each sell hundreds of helium-filled balloons a year, and store managers agreed the loss of sales would severely impact business in their floral departments.

To create the Laguna Beach ordinance, city officials said they researched reports from the Surfrider Foundation, Ocean Conservancy and other groups, and looked at other cities that have some sort of local ban, whether out of environmental concerns or fire risks , when balloons fly in power lines. Encinitas last year became the first company in San Diego County to ban the sale, use, and distribution of helium-filled balloons; Solana Beach followed in April. Hermosa Beach city leaders banned them along with other single-use plastics. Glendale has that too.

“I’m super happy, it looks like it’s going to be the most aggressive balloon ban ever,” said Rich German, who a few years ago collected 1,500 signatures to support a balloon ban in Laguna Beach through his nonprofit Project O. “We now hope that Laguna will start a trend and cities along the coast will follow. For me, balloons represent the larger problem of plastic, garbage and fishing nets. It’s a step in the right direction.”

German, who paddles daily off Laguna Beach, said he’ll be on the lookout for Valentine’s Day balloons that make it to the ocean this week. Two years ago he picked up 31 after vacation, he said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has an entire department focused on the dangers of marine debris, which includes balloons. Christy Kehoe, director of the California program, said she respects what Laguna Beach officials are doing.

“Unlike other marine debris, balloons can travel hundreds of miles, surface and float back down,” Kehoe said. “They can get caught on trees and electrical wires and cause other damage. People tend to think they’re light and whimsical and don’t realize how dangerous they are to sea life.”

A study conducted in Australia found balloons to be the most harmful to seabirds, marine life and turtles, Kehoe said. And in Virginia, nearly 5,000 balloons were found during a day-long cleanup.

Kehoe pointed out sea turtles, which often mistake the metal balloons for jellyfish.

“If they ingest them, they can clog their digestive system,” Kehoe said, adding that the threads attached could become entangled around the head and neck.

dr Lauren Palmer, a veterinarian at The Marine Mammal Center Los Angeles, said she found pieces of balloons in sea lions’ stomachs and saw ribbons and cords that were causing entanglements.

“In particular, mylar balloons or helium balloons should be banned because they always end up as garbage somewhere and aren’t disposed of responsibly,” she said.

Glenn Gray, CEO of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, agreed with Palmer.

“We know firsthand it’s a real problem,” he said. “Balloons are often mistaken for food and can therefore get stuck in an animal’s throat or stomach, giving them the false impression of being full. Then they come in because of malnutrition.”

Denise Erkeneff, the Surfrider Foundation chapter coordinator in South Orange County, was there to speak during Laguna Beach Council’s first review of a possible new law last month, and supported a request from Mayor Bob Whalen that the city begin education should campaign before it comes into effect, which is proposed for January 1st.

“For me, the first step is preventive education,” she said, adding that Surfrider could help.

Her suggestions include reaching out through Visit Laguna Beach, the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, and event planners using rental space in hotels. She commends the ranch operators for banning balloons on their property.

“People at sea find balloons there every day,” she said. “That’s not the sight you see when you look at wildlife.”

This is precisely the problem faced by Donna Kalez and Gisele Anderson, who both operate whale watching charters out of Dana Point Harbor. In order for the World Cetacean Alliance to designate Dana Point as the first Whale Heritage Site in North America, they made cleaning up balloon debris a priority. Last year, the two charters collected more than 1,500 balloons floating on the sea surface.

“Every time we stop and see dolphins and whales, we take balloons,” Kalez said.

“If they’re released nine or ten miles from shore, they always blow into the ocean,” she added. “No matter what they say, there is no such thing as a biodegradable balloon.”

As part of NOAA’s efforts to reduce marine debris, the agency is working with a group from Cal State Channel Islands that is studying the impacts and conducting cleanups around the remote islands that are home to colonies of sea lions and elephant seals.

A 2022 cleanup dumped 745 pounds of debris, including balloons.

“Across the country, whether at the local, city or state level, there is a lot of work being done to clean up balloon debris,” Kehoe said. “There is a growing enthusiasm to solve this problem and there is growing public awareness.”

“It’s incredibly important to stop the problem at its source,” she added. “I respect Laguna Beach in their attempt to educate the community at large.” Laguna Beach nears ban on public use, sale of all balloons – Orange County Register

Dais Johnston

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