NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

Balloon + atmosphere = jelly!


By: Dianna Parker, Communications Specialist

Have you ever been to a wedding or birthday party where guests released balloons filled with helium into the air? Fun, right?

What most people don’t know (or remember) is that once balloons go up, they must come down. If they don’t become snagged on something and deflate, they will keep rising and eventually burst as pressure in the atmosphere gets higher. It will fall back down to Earth a different balloon.


Photo credit: NASA

So why does this matter? Seventy percent of the planet’s surface is water, which means it’s highly likely this popped balloon will end up in the ocean, where it may be mistaken by an unlucky marine animal for a tasty jelly fish. Balloons are usually made of rubber, latex, or plastic, which can block up an animal’s stomach. The strings can become wrapped around their necks, fins, or flippers, preventing them from hunting or cutting into their flesh.

Photo credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Photo credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Balloons are fun and festive, but please think twice before you let go.

Author: NOAA Marine Debris Program

The NOAA Marine Debris Program envisions the global ocean and its coasts, users, and inhabitants free from the impacts of marine debris. Our mission is to investigate and solve the problems that stem from marine debris, in order to protect and conserve our nation's marine environment, natural resources, industries, economy, and people.

7 thoughts on “Balloon + atmosphere = jelly!

  1. Hi Folks,
    Though my specialty is Sinksam (Non-buoyant marine debris) I do have extensive collections of flotsam, including balloon remnants. Here is a link to the photo documentation of an art piece, entitled “The Party is Over” in which much of my collection was used. I was able to trace the 8 foot McDonald’s balloon back to a franchise twenty miles from where I found it. The yellow balloon in the glassine envelope (poorly focussed) is the sole example of a colonized balloon I’ve ever found, with a number of small gooseneck barnacles attached to it. That apparently was due to incomplete deflation, with a small trapped bubble of gas in one area keeping it oriented properly for colonization. Any and all pictures in this folder and my Flickr account of 60K photos are freely available for downloading or non-commercial usage. Enjoy. John Vonderlin

  2. I can help a bit with the – I’ve built a virtual balloon race at – – any charity can setup their own race.

  3. Yeah, this is really awful. We picked up some balloons the other day, but it’s still sad to see all the trash that’s in our waters.

  4. Valuable info. Lucky me I discovered your site by accident, and I am surprised why this twist of fate did not came about in advance!

    I bookmarked it.

  5. Pingback: Is There a Garbage Patch in the Great Lakes? | NOAA's Response and Restoration Blog

  6. Pingback: Not Just Hot Air: Celebrate July 4 Without Balloon Releases | NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

  7. I don’t even know the way I finished up here, however I believed this submit was great.
    I do not understand who you might be however certainly you are going
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