Dr Potvin, who has a PHD in zoology, believes the
Dr Potvin, who has a PHD in zoology, believes the "no helium balloon policy” at shopping centres is a step in the right direction. Contributed

Why correct disposal of helium balloons is vital

IT'S as simple as disposing of helium balloons instead of letting them go into the sky so they won't pose a risk for wildlife, according to a university lecturer.

A chain of Queensland shopping centres has banned helium balloons after the shocking discovery of a branded balloon in the stomach of a dead grey-headed albatross.

Retail First Pty Ltd, which manages 20 shopping centres across south east Queensland, has introduced the "no helium balloon policy" due to environmental concerns and the discovery of a Retail First-branded balloon inside the bird, which was found at Fraser Island.

Dr Dominique Potvin is the new lecturer for the recently introduced Bachelor of Ecology degree at the University of the Sunshine Coast's Fraser Coast campus.

Having spent a lot of time on Fraser Island as a teenager, the news of the death of a grey-headed albatross on the island saddened Dr Potvin.

"It's sad but great it's got the media attention," Dr Potvin said.

Dr Potvin, who has a PHD in zoology, believes the "no helium balloon policy" at shopping centres is a step in the right direction.

"I don't believe they (helium balloons) need to be banned completely - they just need to be disposed of correctly," she said.

The USC lecturer has studied the impact of human activity on the bird life throughout Australia for more than 10 years.

Dr Potvin said about 36% of seabirds and 50% of turtles ate plastic debris, with one of the most common plastics likely to be ingested being balloons.

In Victoria there is a campaign promoting blowing bubbles instead of helium balloons for outdoor events.

"Having a bunch of helium balloons at outdoor events where you're not in control isn't worth killing our wildlife," she said.

Throughout her career Dr Potvin has worked all over Queensland including field work on the Great Barrier Reef off Gladstone.

She said it was often hard to tell if a bird was suffering from ingestion of plastic.

"This isn't the kind of thing that is very obvious.

"You see a bird is unwell but you have no idea if it's swallowed plastic," she said.

Dr Potvin said the three biggest factors impacting on bird life around Australia were:

1. Habitat loss - changing the landscape, deforestation;

2. Invasive species, non native animals like cats and foxes.

3. Plastic debris in the ocean for sea birds