NORFOLK, VA—Keep Suffolk Beautiful, Suffolk Art League, and Suffolk Public Schools have partnered with Clean Virginia Waterways of Longwood University to collect the balloon debris that pollute the waterways of Virginia and transform them into beautiful butterfly and sea turtle sculptures. These two larger-than-life works are now on display at Slover Library in time for Harborfest weekend as a monument to the massive impact the debris has on marine life.
Balloons that are released into the air do not simply disappear forever—balloon debris falls back down to the earth, often ending up in streams, rivers, and the ocean. From June 2013 to November 2017, Marine Debris researchers Christina Trapani and Kathy O’Hara conducted 46 balloon-related litter surveys along 111 linear miles of remote Virginia beaches, recording 11,441 balloons and balloon-related items. “People just don’t think about released balloons being litter. It’s evident when you see mass balloon releases at weddings, funerals, sports, games, and other events. But all balloons return to earth and can be very damaging to our wildlife, especially sea turtles and shorebirds,” Trapani states. “We want to make people think twice about releasing a balloon.”
Clean Virginia Waterways partnered with Keep Suffolk Beautiful, Suffolk Art League, and Suffolk Public Schools to create artworks that would showcase the immense volume of balloon debris found in the survey and raise awareness of its impact on marine life. Students at The College and Career Academy at Pruden welded the frames for the sculptures, and volunteers sorted the 11,441 balloons and balloon-related items for workable materials. Suffolk teachers and students then filled the sculptures with balloons, and pieces of washed up clam netting found on the beaches form the skin to hold the balloons in place. The project took 9 months from start to finish, resulting in two beautiful sculptures: Mylar Monarch the butterfly and Shelly the sea turtle.
The sculptures previously exhibited at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, and are now touring at Slover Library for June and July. As patrons visit during Harborfest and through the summer, Slover Library hopes to call attention to the important conservation message of preventing polluted waterways and protecting marine wildlife.
The research was supported by the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Clean Virginia Waterways based at Longwood University. The full report on Balloon Litter is available on the Clean Virginia Waterways website.
About Slover Library:
Slover Library blends traditional library functions with the best of contemporary library resources and services. The innovative space design creates a vital and dynamic center of community learning, leading-edge technology and civic engagement, available to all citizens of the region. More than just a public library, it is known as an attraction for residents and visitors alike. Slover Library is located in beautiful downtown Norfolk on the corner of Plume and Atlantic Street near MacArthur Square and the MacArthur Memorial. Call (757) 431-7491 for more information.