This new art installation visualizes the impact of balloon trash in Virginia waterways

Mylar Monarch the Butterfly is just one of the sculptures on display at Slover Library this summer. (Southside Daily/courtesy of Slover Library)

NORFOLK — Slover Library has two larger-than-life art work on display from June until July.

And here’s the deal: They’re made up of balloon debris collected from waterways in Virginia.

Keep Suffolk Beautiful, Suffolk Art League and Suffolk Public Schools in partnership with Clean Virginia Waterways of Longwood University, were responsible for collecting and creating the balloon debris for the sculptures, officials said in a news release.

The sculptures have been transformed from balloon trash to beautiful butterfly and sea turtle sculptures.

Balloons that are released into the air do not simply disappear forever— balloon debris fall back down to the earth, often ending up in streams, rivers, and the ocean, officials said.

From June 2013 to November 2017, Marine Debris researchers Christina Trapani and Kathy O’Hara conducted 46 balloon-related litter surveys along 111 linear miles of remote Virginia beaches, recording 11,441 balloons and balloon-related items.

“People just don’t think about released balloons being litter. It’s evident when you see mass balloon releases at weddings, funerals, sports, games, and other events. But all balloons return to earth and can be very damaging to our wildlife, especially sea turtles and shorebirds,” Trapani said. “We want to make people think twice about releasing a balloon.”

Clean Virginia Waterways partnered with Keep Suffolk Beautiful, Suffolk Art League, and Suffolk Public Schools to create artworks that would showcase the immense volume of balloon debris found in the survey and raise awareness of its impact on marine life.

Students at The College and Career Academy at Pruden welded the frames for the sculptures, and volunteers sorted the 11,441 balloons and balloon-related items for workable materials.

Suffolk teachers and students then filled the sculptures with balloons, and pieces of washed up clam netting found on the beaches form the skin to hold the balloons in place.

The project took nine months from start to finish, resulting in two sculptures: Mylar Monarch the butterfly and Shelly the sea turtle.

The sculptures previously exhibited at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, and are now touring at Slover Library for June and July, officials said.

The research was supported by the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Clean Virginia Waterways based at Longwood University.

Click here to find the full report on balloon litter.

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