Florida's balloon ban will protect sea turtles, birds and other marine life

FILE - A loggerhead sea turtle hatchling makes its way into the ocean along Haulover Beach in Miami, July 9, 2013. In an effort to protect sea turtles, birds and other animals, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill which expands the state's current ban on releasing 10 or more balloons on Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Sea turtles, marine birds and children under 7 will be protected under a new Florida law that bans the intentional release of balloons.

The law, signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday, replaces an existing ban of releasing ten or more balloons within 24 hours. The Legislature approved the bill with bipartisan support in March and the law is praised by environmentalists.

“Balloons rank among the deadliest ocean plastic for key wildlife and are the deadliest form of plastic debris for seabirds. Florida’s new law will help save ocean animals from these preventable deaths,” said Hunter Miller, a Florida representative of the Washington-based environmental group Oceana.

The law will exempt children under 7. Anyone else can be fined for littering for intentionally releasing a single balloon. The new law also removes an exemption for biodegradable balloons. DeSantis signed the bill in private and didn't make a statement on it.

The bill analysis prepared for lawmakers notes balloon releases are common at weddings, funerals, sporting events, graduations and various celebrations.

Following efforts to limit plastic bags and straws, the push by environmentalists against balloon releases has gained traction. The Florida Legislature has previously barred local governments from banning plastic bags. In 2019, DeSantis vetoed a bill that would have temporarily banned local governments from outlawing plastic straws.

Florida is a large peninsula with no point further than 60 miles (97 kilometers) from the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico. Balloons can stay afloat for days — and winds and currents can carry them far from their initial release point.

Once they deflate and fall, sea turtles confuse them for one of their favorite foods: jellyfish. Birds, manatees, whales and other marine life also eat balloons, which can block their digestive systems, leading to starvation.

“Balloon litter in waterbodies affects more than 260 species worldwide and has been identified as among the five deadliest types of marine debris in terms of the risk that it poses to marine wildlife,” said the legislative analysis, adding that animals can also get tangled in balloon strings.