It is no secret that single-use plastic causes dangers and numerous deaths among wildlife. But, it has just been found that out of all the plastic products made, balloons are the top suspect.

Grey headed albatross autopsy with balloon debris. Credit: Lauren Roman

A study published in the Scientific Reports found that yes, hard plastic is to blame for the majority of debris ingested by marine animals, but it is less likely to kill than soft plastics such as balloons.

“Among the birds we studied, the leading cause of death was blockage of the gastrointestinal tract, followed by infections or other complications caused by gastrointestinal obstructions,” Lauren Roman, IMAS-CSIRO Ph.D. student who led the study, told “Although soft plastics accounted for just 5 per cent of the items ingested, they were responsible for more than 40 per cent of the mortalities.”

“As similar research into plastic ingestion by sea turtles has found, it appears that while hard plastic fragments may pass quickly through the gut, soft plastics are more likely to become compacted and cause fatal obstructions,” Roman added.

White headed petrel autopsy with balloon debris. Credit: Lauren Roman

According to, a recent survey showed that balloon pieces found on the beach have tripled over the past 10 years.

Balloons often burst in the sky, but some deflate and fall back down, either on land or sea, which either way causes damage on wildlife.

Most animals found dead were later on examined to have had digestive tract blocking, which left them choking or starve to death. Some even get stuck on pieces of the plastic that stops them from moving, hence eating.

Sea turtles are known to be the top marine animal at risk, because they commonly prey on jellies, which balloons could be mistaken for.

“If seabirds eat plastic, their risk of mortality increases, and even a single piece can be fatal,” said Roman.

Photo: Rod Penrose, Marine Environmental Monitoring, UK CSIP

The evidence is clear that if we want to stop seabirds from dying from plastic ingestion, we need to reduce or remove marine debris from their environment, particularly balloons.”