By Morgan Pilz, Staff Writer
(July 26, 2019) Around 750 balloons have already been collected during the second annual Blume’s Balloon Roundup Contest, which began May 1 and will end on Sept. 20.
Two young Berlin residents took an environmental issue and created a summer contest as a solution last year, as participants collected 1,392 balloons from the bay and ocean, which brings the overall number of balloons rounded up to 2,393.
It all began when Joshua, 13, and Emily Blume, 11, went fishing with their father, Luke, last year. They noticed balloons in the water, which can be lethal for marine animals.
“I go out fishing with my dad a lot and we’d see a lot of balloons,” Joshua Blume said. “Balloons are really bad for the environment and the turtles eat them and they choke and die. They think the balloons are jellyfish, which is their natural diet, and they can’t digest them.”
Balloons tend to land in the bay and ocean after being released, and over time can lose the dyes chemically attached to them, leaving them colorless. These colorless balloons attract the sea turtles, who easily mistake them for jellyfish. The balloon strings are also used by birds in the area to make their nests, which can tangle and choke their babies.
Recently, balloons made the news when an Assateague Island wild pony ingested a balloon and the string was stuck hanging out of its mouth. The pony was able to pass the balloon without injuring itself.
The siblings decided to hold a balloon-collecting contest throughout the resort, from June 30 to Sept. 30 last year. Within that 90-day period, fishermen and competitors collected nearly 1,400 balloons from the bay and ocean.
“This may help the environment,” Blume said. “The more balloons that are collected, the less sea life that’s going to die by eating them. When we went to the [sea turtle] hospital in Marathon, they said the top two things found in sea turtles’ stomachs are balloons and plastic bags.”
People also tend to underestimate just how far balloons can travel when they are released. The Blume family even found a balloon in their neighborhood, which had traveled all the way from Arizona.
“We found a balloon on the end of our street,” Luke Blume said. “Three of them from a car wash. It had a car wash logo on the balloons I had never heard of. So we googled the car wash where the balloons came from, and it’s in Arizona. That’s how far these balloons can travel.
“I looked up the logo and the only carwash that had that same logo is in the southwest United States,” he continued. “The closest one was Arizona. That’s like a couple thousand miles away that balloon probably got up, got in the jet stream, and flew out here and ended up in Worcester County, Maryland. It’s incredible how far they go and people just don’t think about it.”
This year, the contest started a month earlier and participants have already collected hundreds upon hundreds of balloons and even other plastics and litter left in the water.
Despite being held primarily in the local area, participants from all over the country took part in the contest last year, and this year as well. Some even continued to hunt for balloons well into winter.
According to the Blume family, it might have even encouraged some families from other states to create their own balloon roundup, though none have been officially created as far as they know.
When the family was done collecting balloons from last year’s contest, they gave them to Stephanie McElhinny, art teacher at Berlin Intermediate School.
“Some of the balloons we collected last year we took to the art teacher at Berlin Intermediate School and they did an environmental art project where they made Papier-mâché fish and birds and they used the balloons we collected for the outside covers,” Luke Blume said. “They cut them apart and used them to cover the art projects and had those displayed in one of the school art shows in the spring.”
Now, any balloons the family finds, they are keeping for a demonstration in Annapolis, which will show how detrimental large-scale balloon releases can be on the environment.
Balloons were not the only things found in the water. People gathered an assortment of trash, such as old clothing, beach balls, pool floaties like a large pink flamingo and even a bridal veil.
The family also has advice for people who plan to use balloons during celebrations or other events.
“You could dispose of them in a different way,” Blume said. “You could pop them and throw them in the trash. They don’t get into the ocean that way.”
“They shouldn’t ban balloons, but I would just want to make it clear that you shouldn’t release them,” Emily Blume said. “It’s still fun to have balloons at birthday parties, just don’t release them.”
“People can be more responsible and try not to let them go,” Luke Blume said. “If more people were aware, they’d say, ‘Let’s pop this and put it in the trash,’ instead of letting them float away at the end of the day.”
Sometime later this year, the Blumes will hold an award ceremony for those who participated in the roundup event. This year, there will be categories for collecting from the sea and on land. The top three winners will receive cash prizes as well as several donated items from local businesses.
The environmental support does not end there. The Blumes have created T-shirts, donated by Red Sun Apparel, and the funds from the sales will be donated to two organizations – the MERR Institute in Delaware and the Marathon Turtle Hospital in Florida. T-shirts cost $15.
The Marine Education, Research and Rehabilitation Institute, Inc. is a nonprofit stranding response and rehabilitation organization dedicated to the conservation of marine mammals and sea turtles.
It is committed to contributing to the preservation of these species through research and rescue efforts, and to foster greater understanding and appreciation of these species and their habitat through education and enhanced public awareness.
The Marathon Turtle Hospital treats a variety of ailments such as: intestinal impactions caused from ingestion of foreign materials or too many small crustaceans, shell damage caused by boat collisions, entanglement injuries from fishing gear and foreign matter and fibropapillomatosis, a disease that affects over half of the juvenile green sea turtle population around the world.
The Turtle Hospital has successfully treated and released over 1,500 sea turtles since its founding in 1986. The turtles are released in a variety of ways and at different locations depending on species.
To learn more about the operation, purchase a T-shirt or to join the balloon search, visit Blumes Balloon Roundup on Facebook.