The Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team responds to sick, injured and dead marine mammals and sea turtles all over the state of Virginia. During our responses, we travel to both crowded and remote beaches, barrier islands, National Wildlife Refuges, State Parks, bird sanctuaries, etc. What we’ve seen over the years is most disturbing: TRASH EVERYWHERE!
Balloons, plastic bottles, cigarette butts, plastic bags, plastic straws, cans and more! It seems the more remote the beach, the more trash we find.
We started participating in the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup in 2003, which made us even more aware of the trashy situation facing our state. Balloons became the most obvious form of litter on many of the more remote areas, especially Fisherman Island, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, False Cape State Park and the barrier islands of the eastern shore of Virginia.
Then in 2008, a small green sea turtle stranded in Virginia Beach. Kermit was emaciated, lethargic and found rolling around in the surf. Radiographs indicated an obstruction in Kermit’s esophagus. Over the course of three procedures, 5 pieces of latex balloon, hard plastic, soft plastic, paper and mesh were removed from Kermit’s esophagus. Kermit then spent two months being tube fed, until his esophagus regained its normal size and function.
The story of Kermit inspired the First Colonial High School’s Earth Club! They decided to create four Trash Talking Turtles to be filled with balloons from local beaches, and displayed at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge (BBNWR), First Landing State Park (FLSP), Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge (ESVNWR) and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (CNWR). The turtles were accompanied by pledge sheets for people to sign, promising never to release another balloon. To date, ESVNWR has over 10 pledge sheets and has even inspired one volunteer to create a balloon dress – but that’s another story.
This site will hopefully inspire others to help educate about the dangers of trash to marine life and our environment.