Film synopsis –

We all know that throwing rubbish on the ground is littering, so why is letting a balloon float away seen as something different? Rubber Jellyfish is a feature-length documentary that explores the effects of helium balloons on the environment, wildlife and human beings. Mum-to-be Carly Wilson sets out on a personal journey to meet key players on all sides in the fight to ban balloons, and exposes the confronting truth behind our favourite party product. As she travels around Australia seeking to understand the science and various points of view, Carly discovers a range of issues, from the heartbreaking impact on sea turtles to the potentially deadly effect of helium on children. Her journey takes her from littered beaches to the capital, as she speaks to activists, businesses, and politicians to find out why the balloon problem is being ignored and if something can be done.

 

The film maker’s journey –

“Rubber Jellyfish took me over three years to make. I actually had two children over the process (one during production and one during post production) so I can literally say that this film has been a labour of love. Despite the challenge of creating a film with one and then two little kids to look after at the same time, I pressed on because as I started investigating the topic, a very interesting story started to unfold that I felt people deserved to know about. Eventually a community began to build around the project which has resulted in a finished film that I am quite proud of! The film explores the surprising damage that helium balloons are causing to endangered marine wildlife and unravels the balloon industry green washing that has lead consumers to believe that latex balloons are 100% biodegradable and environmentally friendly. This has in turn lead to the popularity of balloon release ceremonies and countless animal fatalities as a result. The film is already making an impact as far as policy goes and the balloon industry is also changing and improving which I feel is partly due to being held to account. This experience has opened my eyes not only to a largely unknown and troubling conservation problem but also the power of film making. I am now so excited to get started on the next project!”

Quick facts –

  • 6 of 7 sea turtle species worldwide are endangered according to the IUCN Red List
  • In a 2012 study from the University of Queensland, Balloons were identified as being disproportionately consumed by sea turtles based on commonality of balloons as litter on Queensland beaches.  In other words, the study found that sea turtles specifically target balloons.  In fact, of all rubber items found inside of deceased sea turtles, 78% were balloons or balloon fragments. They concluded that sea turtles were consuming balloons to such a large degree due to their similarity in appearance to jellyfish which is a prey all sea turtles eat – click here for the scientific paper
  • When helium balloons are released, many burst into jellyfish-like shapes, high in the Earth’s atmosphere (see our trailer for a visual explanation)
  • Sea turtles do not have the ability to throw up so ingestion of human garbage is particularly problematic for them
  • Ingestion of balloons and plastic can cause ‘float syndrome’ in sea turtles – a painful and often lethal condition where gasses form in the digestive tract around the consumed garbage. This causes the animal to float, making them vulnerable to boat strike, shark predation, accumulation of barnacles, sunburn, and unable to dive down for food or protection. Many ultimately die a slow death by starvation.
  • Balloons also cause choking and entanglement deaths in species other than sea turtles. Affected taxa include numerous sea bird species, birds of prey, whales, bighorn sheep, horses, lambs, seals, and platypuses.
  • In most parts of the world balloon release ceremonies are legal. They are a popular  way of memorialising lost loved ones.
  • Since the late 1980s latex balloons have been falsely labeled as “100% biodegradable and environmentally friendly” which has contributed to the popularity of balloon release ceremonies.
  • According to the US Consumer Protection Agency, “of all children’s products, balloons are the leading cause of suffocation death”.
  • Helium inhalation also has the potential to result in death. Even the helium industry warns consumers about the dangers of their product.

Resources –

For more on the topic of balloon ingestion by Ocean Wildlife, please visit:

We would also be delighted if you would –

Be a change maker. To help raise awareness and inspire policy change around this issue please view our “Take Action” page.  We also have resources available for teachers and a press kit for journalists and bloggers. With our efforts joined, we can make a difference!

What will our planet look like for our children