By: Joanne M. Haas/Bureau of Law Enforcement
DNR Marine Warden Amie Egstad of Bayfield County gets how balloons add fun to parties or ignite silent heart-felt reflection when set free to dance in the sky at a friend’s memorial.
She gets it -- she really does.
The other thing she really gets -- on a daily basis -- is the balloon in another form. And that form is litter, posing problems for marine wildlife and boats in Lake Superior when these party favors and memorials plummet to the waves and shoreline.
“It’s not unusual to pick up eight of these balloons a day,” Egstad says. Plus, she says, they come with some mystery.
Wardens are never sure what they are coming upon when they spot something floating at the water’s surface, she says. “We can see something silver from a distance, or a color reflecting off the water. We get there and find it is a balloon with a very long string still attached.”
Egstad says sometimes it is the larger balloon plastered with the big-letter party message. Or, the wardens find a batch of flattened balloons still held together by ribbon and lots of string.
“It seems to be a case where people, who have no intention of littering or causing potentially deadly consequences for our native and migratory birds or fisheries, are not stopping to think that what goes up does come down,” Egstad says. “And in this case, what’s coming down in Great Lake Superior are a lot of balloons.”
And the problem is not just with Warden Amie and Lake Superior.
DNR Marine Warden Dave Allen and Warden Lynna Gurnoe also have been picking balloons out of Lake Michigan. “After the day was done... we had about a dozen total, like bread crumbs out there!” Gurnoe said in a text message to Egstad.
Egstad says the solution to protecting the wildlife, water and shoreline quality from this party favorite is a simple one.
“Just take the balloons home with you. Please don’t release the balloons into the air because they will come down. And when they do, these once inflated balloons pose real threats to wildlife which can attempt to eat them -- or even get tangled in the strings and either choke or drown,” Egstad says. “As pretty and fun as balloons are, they can become dangerous, unsightly litter if not properly disposed of by the owners.
“If the balloons are to make memories, keep them!” she says.