ENVIRONMENTALISTS are warning that the release of thousands of balloons – a traditional highlight of Gibraltar National Day – is posing a grave risk to wildlife.
The group Blue Planet Society insist the annual release of 30,000 balloons on September 10 is making a mockery of the government’s current drive to be sustainable.
It claims that the plastic inflatables end up in the Straits endangering marine wildlife and birds.
“Littering apart, it is a highly irresponsible act of environmental vandalism,” insisted a spokesman.
Often mistaken for food (much like plastic bags), once eaten, the balloons can block the digestive tract and cause a long and painful death by starvation.
The group adds that the Straits are the worst place to release the balloons in the Med, as they get into the vital nutrient-rich current that is typical of the area.
In addition the 14km gap between Europe and Africa is an important migration route for huge numbers of birds.
“Dolphins, whales, turtles and birds have all been killed by balloons when they mistake balloons for food,” said a spokesman for the group.
The group has now set up a Facebook page petition calling for the celebration to be stopped, with the government admitting it is now looking at ways to tackle the issue.
They have already introduced new biodegradable balloons in a measure to soften the problem.
Minister for environment Dr John Cortes said: “Biodegradable balloons are much more environmentally friendly. The mere fact that they last much less time means that they can create problems for wildlife for less time.”
However, he admitted: “It is true that during the time before they degrade they can still have an impact, and the Department of the Environment is looking at options for the future that will reduce the impact even more.”