Each year on September 10, the British territory of Gibraltar celebrates its 1967 sovereignty referendum from Spain. Citizens engage in numerous festivities on Gibraltar’s National Day, and they also release 30,000 red and white balloons—one for each member of Gibraltar’s population—in the territory’s Casemates Square.

The annual balloon release is reportedly one of the largest of its kind in the world. However, The Guardian reports that the spectacular aerial show will end after more than 20 years, thanks to concerns that marine animals will get tangled or trapped in the balloons, or mistake them for food.

“Over the years ... the release of balloons as part of the festivities has become an important part of the day,” the Self Determination for Gibraltar Group (SDGG), which organizes the national day and the balloon release, said in a statement. “Seeing the red and white balloons floating in the sky has evoked passion and sentiment in a huge number of Gibraltarians as the symbolic representation of our freedom. There has nevertheless been a growing number of credible national and international organizations and people who, in particular over the last few years, have highlighted that releasing helium-filled balloons is likely to be harmful to the environment and animals.”

According to Inhabitat, environmental organizations like the Environmental Safety Group and the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society have been trying to end the balloon release for more than a decade. Recently, the latter group invited UN Patron of the Oceans Lewis Pugh, a maritime lawyer and long-distance swimmer, to Gibraltar. There, Pugh spoke with Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and told him that the celebratory custom “legitimizes and normalizes pollution.”

This isn’t the first time a nation has canceled a celebratory balloon race due to environmental reasons. In 1989, the Canadian government canceled a planned release of thousands of balloons in Ottawa to honor Canada Day. 

Officials plan to ask Gibraltar’s citizens to brainstorm alternate ways to celebrate National Day. The SDGG said in a statement that it is “confident we will be providing something even more emotive and inspirational than the balloons.”

[h/t The Guardian]

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