Message in a Bottle

, 28 July 2011

Author Erin Pettifer

Discarded bottle washed up on our shores / Rachel Bailey.

Hundreds of celebratory balloons soaring up into the sky, until they’re just a speck on the horizon… destination unknown!

A secret message in a bottle, launched into the sea… drifting who knows where? Maybe to be found by a stranger in some far flung exotic place...

We can all relate to that rush of excitement and whimsical adventure associated with these stories in the press. But, moving away from the romance of it all and thinking more clearly about their final destination is slightly more sobering.

With a message in a bottle thrown into the sea, we have to ask ourselves would we so willingly litter our streets, our parks, our treasured nature reserves? When we litter our seas, it’s a classic case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. But, just because we can’t see where these bottles and balloons end up, it doesn’t mean their impact on our wildlife isn’t potentially devastating.

Some figures to sober us further…

• There are 2,000 items of litter for every kilometre on a beach. Put another way, for every footstep you take on the beach there are two pieces of litter!

Dolphins, whales, turtles, seabirds and other marine animals have all been harmed or killed by becoming entangled in our litter or accidentally ingesting it.

Balloons are mistaken for food by many animals, especially turtles who take them for jellyfish. These can then block their stomachs causing them to starve. The string on balloons can entangle and trap animals, potentially causing them to drown.

Plastic is the biggest offender, constituting a massive 75% of all litter recorded!

Plastic never biodegrades but instead just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. Microplastic particles are now being found inside filter feeders who sieve their food from seawater and amongst sand grains on beaches!

The facts are shocking.

As much as I always want to keep my childlike sense of fun and adventure (and whole heartedly support everyone else who strives for this too!), let’s always think about the bigger picture in our actions and make sure we’re not harming anything else through what we’re doing. So, next time you go to an event releasing balloons or someone suggests doing a message in a bottle what thoughts will flash through your mind now? Will you think twice and picture the final destination?

Join our campaign to protect UK seas: Petition Fish

Razorbill entangled in balloon strings / Christine McGuiness

Grey seal entangled in discarded fishing net / Tom Marshall.

Credits: Marine Conservation Society litter facts (

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  • Sarah Patton:

    I agree wholeheartedly……in principal…..but when my sister was dying, aged 39, the two things she wanted at her funeral were weepy songs (Goodbye My Lover, James Blunt for a start) and helium balloons to be released by those there. Who was I to say no? Would explaining the potential environmental consequences have been helpful at that time? No.
    To see her children let their balloons go and say ‘goodbye Mummy’ – I challenge anyone to say no to that.

    28 Jul 2011 20:01:58