Balloons Are Killing Seabirds That Swallow Them, Study Finds

"Even a single piece of plastic can be fatal."

Seabirds are choking to death on balloons at an alarming rate, a new study has claimed, with almost one in five birds that swallow them dying.

Scientists from the University of Tasmania collated data on seabird deaths and found a bird was more likely to die from swallowing ‘soft’ plastic than hard plastic.

The researchers said birds had a 20% chance of dying from ingesting a single piece of balloon, rising to 50% if they swallowed nine items.

“Marine debris ingestion is now a globally recognised threat,” co-author Lauren Roman said. “Among the birds we studied the leading cause of death was blockage of the gastrointestinal tract, followed by infections or other complications caused by gastrointestinal obstructions.

Balloons or balloon fragments were “the marine debris most likely to cause mortality”, Romans said, and while soft plastics accounted for just 5% of the items birds ingested they were responsible for more than 40% of deaths.

Roman said balloons were “more likely” to cause death because “while hard plastic fragments may pass quickly through the gut, soft plastics are more likely to become compacted and cause fatal obstructions.”

Co-author Dr Chris Wilcox stressed that while the study showed the danger of soft items like balloons, all plastics pose a threat to seabirds.

“If seabirds eat plastic their risk of mortality increases, and even a single piece can be fatal. While hard plastics are less likely to kill than soft plastics they were still responsible for more than half of the seabird deaths identified in our study.”