NORTHFIELD – The Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders approved an ordinance April 9 banning the release of helium filled balloons in all county parks.

The county joins eight municipalities in Atlantic County that have already banned the release of lighter-than-air plastic and mylar balloons. The first such ordinance was adopted in Margate in 2014 and several other communities have followed suit in an effort to protect marine life and prevent littering.

Easterly winds carry balloons released into the atmosphere out to sea where they eventually burst and fall into the ocean, posing threats to marine animals that mistake them for jellyfish. The strings that are usually attached to the balloons often strangle sea birds, sea turtles and other marine life.

Freeholder Caren Fitzpatrick also noted that balloons can be a choking hazard for children.

Sustainable Margate Chairman Steve Jasiecki of Margate attended the meeting to support the ban.

“We started the first balloon ordinance in Margate because of all the balloons we collected on the beach,” he said.

Jasiecki also volunteers to erect osprey nests and band ospreys who make their home in the marshes and bays of Absecon Island.

“What we find in the osprey nests are chicks that have been strangled by the ribbons that come with the balloons,” he said.

But more importantly, the ban sends a message that releasing balloons into the atmosphere is the same as littering, he said.

The eight towns in Atlantic County that have passed ordinances protecting wildlife are Atlantic City, Brigantine, Egg Harbor City, Galloway Township, Longport, Margate, Somers Point and Ventnor City.

Jasiecki said a total of 19 communities in the state have approved the ban.

The county ordinance prohibits the release of balloons but not the use of them.

“We’re not banning balloons totally, just the release,” Freeholder Chairwoman Amy Gatto said. “So you can still bring them to your birthday parties, you just can’t release them.”

Gatto said the county would give it a year to educate the public about the ban before citing anyone. County park rangers will educate the public about the ban and signage will be posted at the entrance to parks to notify everyone of the regulation. However, on April 9, 2020, violators could be fined up to $500.

Jasiecki said the county ban sends a strong message to state officials about the issue. He would like to see a statewide ban, or at least a county-wide ban.

Gatto said the county would notify all Atlantic County municipalities about the county’s ban, especially those that host county facilities, and encourage all municipalities to adopt similar ordinances.

Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

Award winning journalist covering news, events and people of Atlantic County for more than 20 years.