A report outlining the threats and impacts that the Bureau of Meteorology’s weather balloon targets was sent to all state and federal Environment Ministers as well as the Directors of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Bureau of Meteorology in January.
As a result of the report being released several government departments are now in negotiations to implement mitigation strategies which will see a safer and more sustainable way to record such important weather data.
Weather balloons have been released into the environment for decades in order to predict weather patterns and mitigate extreme weather events. They are designed for non-retrieval, and for this reason pose significant and persistent threats once introduced to Australia’s coastal and marine environments. Since 2011, Tangaroa Blue Foundation has been identifying weather balloons and their associated components as significant constituents of marine debris recovered from 380 beaches around the country.
The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) release balloons on average two times a day from 44 field stations, of which, 30 are located within 50 km of the coastline. Balloons have been demonstrated to travel up to 250kms from deployment so with conservative estimates that 50% of these deployments near coastal areas will end up in the ocean, this equates to over 32,344 m2 of latex persistently and predictably polluting Australia’s marine environment each year. It is critical to identify and collect these shredded latex balloons when encountered, as well as the foil covered polystyrene bases and any other associated parts, like GPS units, batteries and often several meters of rope, which connects the whole rig. Each of these components poses serious threats to marine taxa, which entangle and are ingested, leading to a slow and inevitable death.