Thursday, July 23, 2009

Day 43- Balloon

Noon position: 39°18'31.80"N 170°23'19.20"W
5400 miles into the trip, 8knots over the ground, 20 knots of wind

Captain has been on a cooking spree the past few days: a curried lentil and squash soup one night, green chili beef and bean stew the next, and hamburgers tonight. These tasty meals followed by relentless snacking (Jeff is the king of killer snack plate composition) have made for a sluggish crew the past few days. Well, sluggish in between the sail changes and boat chores. No trawling can be done in this sea state (we learned our lesson on the first leg with the broken Manta, plus our priority is making good time to Honolulu) and the weather hasn’t exactly created the most welcoming deck conditions (it’s rainy, and windy, and cold). Drew has still being doing his morning debris watch which involves tracking the minutes to his first debris sighting of the morning. He clocked a record 10 minutes the other day. That was the longest period of time he’s had to wait to spot debris after walking out on deck.

Needless to say, we have a lot of time to reflect on what we are finding out here. The other day we pulled up a balloon out of the water. It was the knotted end of a bold turquoise balloon attached to some sort of plastic clip. There was no fouling and it appears to be fairly recently deposited. It would have taken years for the balloon to make its way out here via ocean currents. Perhaps it caught some wind off of Japan while it was still inflated or maybe it was released off of a cruise ship passing through the Pacific.

This is the second balloon fragment of the trip. Towards the beginning of the voyage we pulled in a balloon ribbon on one of our fishing lines. As Captain Moore has pointed out several times-balloons are key examples of a frivolous use of plastic. They are mass produced and are now a celebratory staple of sorts at birthday parties, graduation ceremonies, school dances-the list goes on. I remember arches of hundreds of balloons created for high school pep rallys and football games. After the events, sometimes the balloons would get popped and other times they’d been ceremoniously released into the sky.

I was recently a part of a team from CSU, Long Beach’s Environmental Science and Policy Department that was focused on trash accumulation and categorization at the Colorado Lagoon. The Colorado Lagoon is remnant of the historical Los Cerritos Wetlands Complex which is one of the few (although highly degraded) remaining wetlands in Southern California. Balloons, or fragments thereof, surfaced several times in our transects. They are polluting the most remote parts of the world (the middle of the Pacific Ocean) as well as our terrestrial ecosystems.

Anyway, the point is we have stopped questioning some of the cultural practices that contribute to our excessive waste stream. When looking at the practice of celebratory balloons from a rational point of view, it’s a waste of resources and a ridiculous use for a material that is known for its long life span. Balloons are used once, typically on the scale of hours at a time. Why use an everlasting material for this sort of practice? Furthermore why release this material ceremoniously into the environment. Balloons aren’t even close to being the dominant source of waste in the NPSG, but they serve as an allegory for the effect our normalized actions can have on the bigger picture.


Anonymous said...

I agree, balloons need to be banned immediately.
Let alone, releasing them into the enviroment.
Have a great day,
Pam and Colton

Anonymous said...

I have a quick question regarding Hawaiin lei's...Are a lot of people still tossing them into the ocean? We were staying in Napili last December and an elderly lady tossed one into the ocean. This rather rude woman picked it up and started yelling at her for doing it without an explanation as to why. I felt bad for the elderly woman as she was walking away and walked up to her and explained why. She felt extremely bad and was from the mid-west and did not realize she was endangering sea life...

So, with this in mind, shouldn't they explain this to tourists who are receiving or purchasing them?

I am new to this site and absolutely love it!

Just curious,

Herb said...


I never knew you could cook! Hope you're having a great trip.

Herb Solomon

Rob W said...

Has anyone looked into the correlation between El-nino and the pacific gyre?

Wouldn't that be something...

Santiago said...

Thanks for the great article. I've been talking about balloons specifically for a long time, first of all to my family - they don't roll their eyes anymore and I think they get the point now, but we are a drop in the ocean, really. Thanks for expressing this point rationally in the post. I might link to it on my blog, citing the source of course, if that's OK with you.
Good luck with the voyage, Santiago

Joe DeSalme said...

A big thank you to all of you.
I worked at a Therapeutic boarding school for teen boys for four years. I used to take them out on wildnerness trips. I would always make them pick up any trash we would find, often mylar balloons were found in remote places. They boys got a good sense of the enviornment and what we should and shouldn't do. At graduation that year, none of them released balloons into the air, instead popping them, much to the dismay of my boss. :-) For them is was a good lesson indeed, something they can teach to their children.