While many municipalities in the Garden State have tackled the issue on their own, a proposed law would implement a statewide ban on the intentional release of balloons into the sky.

Advocates for the protection of the environment say these balloons are a marine life killer, and they're pushing the public to spur some action on the legislation.

"What we're really trying to do is target those larger balloon releases," said Peter Blair, policy attorney for Long Branch-based Clean Ocean Action. "We're just encouraging people to find other ways to celebrate."

To help prevent the intentional outdoor release of inflated balloons, as well as sky lanterns and other floating devices, the measure proposes offenders be hit with a $1,000 fine per violation. There's an even bigger fine proposed, $2,000, for those who intentionally tether a balloon outdoors and leave it unattended.

The bill is not meant to target children or others who accidentally release a balloon.

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"While balloons are fun and celebratory and often a mark of a fun and great occasion, they, when improperly disposed of and released into the atmosphere, are very detrimental to to our environment and unfortunately extremely lethal to many forms of marine life," Blair said. "Specifically, sea turtles — they see them as jellyfish and other forms of prey that they eat."

More than 70,000 balloons were collected by volunteers cleaning New Jersey's beaches and shorelines as part of Clean Ocean Action's biannual Beach Sweeps events. That number reflects volunteers' efforts on 40 days between 1999 and 2019.

A 2016 publication in the journal Marine Policy ranked balloons No. 3 on a list of the deadliest trash items in the ocean.

"Municipalities across New Jersey, including our very own Asbury Park, have already banned the intentional release of these balloons, proving that this is a simple, common-sense step for protecting our local wildlife," said Assemblywoman Joann Downey, D-Monmouth. "By expanding these prohibitions statewide, we can clean up pollution and save countless animals from pointless, painful deaths."

Other municipalities with their own ordinances prohibiting the practice include Atlantic City, Bradley Beach, Brigantine, Cape May City, Egg Harbor City, Long Beach Township, Longport Borough, Margate City, New Milford, North Wildwood, Sea Isle City, Somers Points, Upper Township and Ventnor City, according to Clean Ocean Action.

The organization has launched an online petition in support of the statewide legislation. The form indicates that people who sign are not "anti-balloon, just anti-balloon litter."

The Balloon Council, a Trenton-based organization of retailers, distributors and manufacturers, said while "balloons should never be released," the council believes in education over legislation.

"Teaching people what they should and shouldn’t do when using balloons: always weighting and never intentionally releasing balloons into the air; and disposing of them properly after a celebration, is critical," said Lorna O'Hara, executive director.

O'Hara said the council has met with bill co-sponsor Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling, D-Monmouth, and shared its educational materials. The council's website notes latex balloons are fully biodegradable.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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