Pick up a balloon for my birthday – and put it in the trash

Balloon on marsh, Ipswich, Massachusetts
You don’t belong here, Mr. Balloon. Ipswich, Massachusetts

Like a colorful dying bird, it flapped in the breeze. Trapped by the spartina grasses, it was grounded. It said, Happy Birthday. Ug. Another blasted Mylar balloon in the marsh. I sucked out the helium and said some unhappy things to its happy message.

Tomorrow (Saturday, September 19, 2015) is International Coastal Clean-up day. This is organized by the Ocean Conservancy and you can sign up to volunteer. Or you can get yourself to the beach, marsh, rocky shore, estuary, pier, booze cruise, bungalow, beach house, or artist hideaway and pick up some trash. Here’s a sampling of what you’ll likely find.

In one small survey conducted by Chris Haight in the Great Marsh in Massachusetts, he found over a thousand pieces of trash in the marsh after a month. Items ranged from candy wrappers to condoms (um, ew) to the center console of a boat!

What if you’re not near a coastline? What can you do? Let’s revisit our balloon friend again. Each summer, I find at least 10 balloons in the marsh. These balloons break free from the hands of the birthday-er or from the mailbox they were tied to. Then floated until the helium leaked out enough that gravity could yank them back down. The balloons on the marsh were likely not dumped into the marsh. They were carried there by wind or water. They started on dry land and ended up on the coast.

And that’s where most of the trash that ends up in the ocean started from. It wasn’t thrown directly into the ocean. It was carried there by wind or water from the land. Because rain runs over parking lots and forests and fields and into streams that drain into rivers that drain into oceans, it’s possible for a soda bottle in the parking lot of Target in Arkansas to end up in the marshes of Louisiana via the Arkansas River and then Mississippi River.

So come on Arkansas and Montana and West Virginia and Luxemburg and everywhere else! Do your part to protect the oceans by being a good upstream neighbor. Pick up a piece of trash. Keep yours and your neighbor’s home tidy! Those of us downstream appreciate it!

Oh, and if you’re looking to pick up a balloon for me for my birthday (which was earlier this month), pick it up out of the marsh or the woods and put it in the trash.


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