Atlantic City has moved to join its neighboring beach towns of Ventnor, Margate, and Longport in banning the outdoor release of helium balloons, and attaching a $500 fine to the ban.
The Atlantic City Council voted for the ban, which environmentalists hope will reduce trash and protect marine life, on a first reading Wednesday night by a 9-0 vote.
The action, after final passage, will mean that helium balloon releases are banned along the entire barrier island that is home to the beach towns.
The ban is the work of the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental group well -acquainted with balloons that start their life at a birthday party but end up blowing in the wind on the beach, or in the ocean. It worked with Sustainable Downbeach, a grassroots organization advocating for environmental measures in the beach communities.
"Sea turtles mistake them for jellyfish, which [are] part of their diet," said Carol Jones of Tuckahoe, a member of Surfrider, addressing the council. "I saw a big sea turtle swallow a Mylar balloon. The balloons travel long distances and take a long time to degrade. Sea birds can become entangled in the ribbons from balloons."
Stephen Jasiecki of Sustainable Margate recalled a release of thousands of balloons over the ocean at the opening of the Showboat Casino. The balloons can wind up in the stomachs of marine life, and their strings can wrap around the animals' bodies.
"I'm a diver," he said. "I have a lot to do with the ocean. It is a problem with the balloons being ingested by sea turtles, falcons, whales. We have a large problem with trash going into the ocean. These plastics are breaking down, getting ingested by fish. And we catch them and eat them.
"Let's start showing the world we are starting to take action," he said.
"We know Atlantic City has beautiful beaches, and we want to keep them clean," said Beth Kwart of Surfrider. She said there would be a beach cleanup in the cove near the Golden Nugget this Saturday between 1 and 3 p.m.
The ordinance was passed although council members were warned that their vote might lead to a visit from the Balloon Council, a lobbying group, at the final vote.
A national nonprofit, Balloons Blow, has been tracking laws nationwide banning balloon release. The issue got some traction after the actress Jamie Lee Curtis published a children's book, Where Do Balloons Go, that romanticized letting balloons fly away and did not address the negative consequences that can result. Memorials involving balloon releases have also contributed to the problem.
The ordinances ban the release of any helium balloons, including latex and Mylar, "as it has been determined that the release of balloons inflated with lighter-than-air gases poses a danger and nuisance to the environment, particularly to wildlife and marine animals."
Ventnor's ordinance bans people from releasing balloons and also from organizing a balloon release within the city except if the balloon is being released by government for "scientific or meteorological purposes." Hot-air balloons recovered after launching and indoor release of balloons are not prohibited.
The Surfrider Foundation has also advocated a ban on plastic bags or fee on bags to cut down on the consequences from those plastics. Longport has adopted a mandatory 10-cent fee on plastic bags used in stores, but the ban was mostly symbolic, as the affluent borough has no stores, only restaurants.