To save marine wildlife from plastic, Zoos Victoria is urging people to replace balloons with bubbles for outdoor use, and they've recruited their animals to show how much fun bubbles can be.
The catastrophic effects of plastic in the oceans are inspiring people to reject bags, bottles, and straws, but outdoor helium balloons are much worse. Well placed river traps can stop other plastics reaching the oceans, but balloons float straight over such defenses. One study found them among the big three identifiable sources of marine plastic along with fishing gear and plastic bags. Moreover, helium is the ultimate non-renewable resource – one day we may have to choose between letting off balloons and life-saving MRI scans.
That said, there is no denying people love balloons, so campaigners are trying to emphasize the enjoyment to be gained from potential replacements, particularly bubbles. Zoos Victoria, which runs three zoos in and around Melbourne, Australia made this video to record their animals' preference.
OK so maybe the giraffe doesn't care, but apparently bubbles even make elephants frisky, although the zoo isn't counting on any baby elephants from the extra play they've inspired between two females.
“Animals can accidently eat balloons thinking they are food and can also become entangled in attached ribbons, often leading to fatal outcomes,” said Ben Sanders of Zoos Victoria in a statement.
This is more than an environmental message. Melbourne Zoo was something of a trendsetter decades ago in getting animals out of cages and into more natural environments, but it only has so much space to go round, so needs to find other ways to keep its charges stimulated.
“Animals are naturally curious, and it's very important for them that we as a zoo give them something to make their lives more interesting and entertaining,” Sanders told IFLScience.
The zoo has been used bubbles on an irregular basis to stimulate many animals, and for July they've brought the bubble machines out and have added videos about their benefits at the seal enclosure. The zoo's grounds have been hung with balloon debris to raise awareness of the problem, but, Sanders said, “The most influential thing we do is include the harm of balloons and benefits of bubbles in the keepers' presentations. Face-to-face messages are stronger, we tell a story and offer people something they can do.” Visitors are encouraged to sign a pledge not to use balloons out of doors, which gets placed on the zoos' noticeboard or online.
Zoos Victoria recently abolished the sale of plastic bottles across its three venues. Sanders added zoos worldwide are raising awareness of marine plastics' threat, but he is not aware of any other using their animals as ambassadors to promote bubbles instead.
Zoo staff had all major bubble brands sold in Australia checked by chemists to ensure the solutions are non-toxic and break down easily before launching the campaign.