Every year Gibraltar releases 30,000 balloons into the sky. This National Day tradition has a devastating impact on marine creatures, as an estimated 3,000 balloons spiral down to defile the ocean. In response to pressure from environmental groups, the island is finally ending this polluting practice.

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According to the Marine Conservation Society, not only can marine animals get tangled up and trapped in balloons, but they often mistake the bright plastic for food. Once consumed, the balloons can block their digestive tract and they starve. Gibraltar is home to dolphins, whales, and turtles that could potentially die from these thousands of deflated balloons.

Related: New report says plastic trash to exceed fish in the sea by 2050

The Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society has been working to end the balloon release for more than a decade. They recently hosted UN Patron of the Oceans Lewis Pugh, who aided in the campaign against the balloons, and credited the end of the display to his visit.

During the visit, Pugh met with Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, and urged him to reconsider the tradition. Pugh said, “I think one of the worst things about this whole thing is that it sends entirely the wrong message to our children and our neighbors. It legitimizes and normalizes pollution.”

Other organizations such as The Environmental Safety Group added their voices to the outcry.

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In the announcement pledging to ban the display, Richard Buttigieg, Chairman of the Self Determination for Gibraltar Group (SDGG), said, “National Day celebrates our future…It must therefore be something we celebrate with all necessary symbolism but sustainably. We cannot be irresponsible about an event that could have [an] negative environmental impact.”

Pugh commended the ban, saying it will deliver a “powerful message” to any remaining organizers of balloon releases.

Officials aim to avoid controversy by asking the citizens of Gibraltar to support the move and send in ideas for an alternate way to celebrate National Day, which takes place on September 10. In a statement, the group said, “…we are confident we will be providing something even more emotive and inspirational than the balloons.”

Via Grist

Images via Wikimedia Commons (1,2)