Alternative ways to celebrate: Popping the traditional balloon

Balloons can end up on nature reserves. (Photo by NCC)

Balloons can end up on nature reserves. (Photo by NCC)

July 18, 2019 | by Kaitlin Richardson

Let me take you on a journey. The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has some stunning conservation properties on Manitoulin and Cockburn Island, which I’m lucky enough to be responsible for.

Nearly untouched globally rare alvar and cedar forest. (Photo by NCC)

Nearly untouched globally rare alvar and cedar forest. (Photo by NCC)

Field work on the Tasker Wilderness Shore property, sometimes referred to as “heaven on Earth” by my co-workers, is one of the best parts of my job as conservation biology coordinator for NCC’s midwest Ontario region. It is a long walk to the shoreline through a mosaic of nearly untouched globally rare alvar and cedar forest.

During this walk, we can see the spring ephemerals emerging, like the fuzzy little round-lobed hepatica, and smell the earthy scent of cedar needles after the spring thaw. Through the trees, the sun is dappled onto the bedrock below, littered with fallen leaves. We can hear black-throated green warblers singing all around us and the sound of waves crashing in the distance. We walk until the forest opens up to the misty, rocky, vast expanse of the Lake Huron shoreline.

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The misty, rocky, vast expanse of the Lake Huron shoreline. (Photo by NCC)

The misty, rocky, vast expanse of the Lake Huron shoreline. (Photo by NCC)

When I finally look down at my feet, what is the first thing I see? A “Congrats!” balloon. Well, congrats on ruining my mood…

Balloon releases have been used as a celebratory activity for decades, portrayed in films and even used as a way to show kids just how big the world is by affixing laminated tags to it that say, “When you find this balloon, call us and tell us where it ended up!” Well, I hate to burst your balloon, but it ended up on a nature reserve.

Like me, our conservation biology coordinator who works on Pelee Island has picked up more balloons than any other type of trash. (Photo by NCC)

Like me, our conservation biology coordinator who works on Pelee Island has picked up more balloons than any other type of trash. (Photo by NCC)

This article is not meant to shame anyone but rather to spread awareness about things we may not think about that are easy to change. Before working in the conservation field, I would not have thought twice about watching a balloon disappear into the sky. But those balloons do not just disappear. In a few hours of walking along only 2.5 kilometres of shoreline, without even searching for them, I collected a whole bag of printed balloons, a few handfuls of ribbon and two deflated bundles of latex balloons tied together. I picked up more balloons than any other type of trash. And I’m not alone in this, either. Our conservation biology coordinator who works on Pelee Island shared similar experiences.

Everyone has seen the tragic photos of wildlife impacted by plastic six-pack rings, so I won’t show you pictures of sad turtles choking on balloons or ribbon woven into bird nests. Instead, I’d like to talk about alternative ways to celebrate. Let’s find a way for people and wildlife to celebrate!

1. Plant a tree

Planting a native tree is a great way to show someone that you love them. They can return year after year to watch the tree grow, and it provides habitat to local wildlife and positively impacts the environment. If you don’t have room in your yard to plant a tree for every birthday, graduation and promotion, not to worry. Some city parks may offer programs to plant trees in honour of a loved one.

2. Seed bombs

If you need something to throw, consider throwing native seed bombs! Not only are they fun to make, but by using wildflower seeds native to your area, you are also planting habitat for pollinators. Here are some resources to help you find which types of seeds to use.

3. Adopt a species

NCC, among other conservation organizations, provides the opportunity for you to contribute to valuable conservation work and give a gift to your loved one at the same time. Through NCC’s Gifts of Canadian Nature program, I received an “adopted” spotted turtle as a gift this year and was overjoyed.

4. Eat cake

This traditional celebration is not to be undersold. In addition to being the tastiest option, you can eat cake with a clear environmental conscience! 

Kaitlin Richardson

About the Author

Kaitlin Richardson is an acting coordinator of conservation biology for NCC's Ontario Region.

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