Pangasinan festival draws flak for releasing balloons and lanterns into the sky

The protected area wasn't too protected.


( Alaminos City Mayor Art F. Celeste expressed his satisfaction over the "resounding success" of Spark Hundred Islands 2016 held at the Lucap Wharf on October 29. The Hundred Islands National Park is known for having more than 100 islets all scattered in the Lingayen Gulf. Some islands have short stretches of powdery white beaches, mangrove forests, caves, subterranean lagoons, bat caves, and a host of interesting sights. 




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Featured during the Spark Hundred Islands event were live bands, fire dance performances, and a fireworks display. It was the first ever celebration of lights and colors "for a cause" but the festival is now drawing flak for an environmental threat: the synchronized release of more than 5,000 LED balloons and sky lanterns to the skies of Pangasinan, led by the mayor and his wife.


Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines, a conservation organization focused on protecting the marine environment, was deeply concerned about the effects of this activity and said that it's "sad that leaders and whole communities are unaware of its impact." They called for immediate action. Save Philippine Seas wrote to the organizer, Triple 8 Travel, through Facebook in the evening of November 1 but the page was nowhere to be found the next morning.




Environmentalists have also called for a collective action to report the incident to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which is headed by Sec. Gina Lopez. Kat de Castro, undersecretary of the Department of Tourism, got wind of the activity and likewise shared her concerns through her Twitter account. The Department of Tourism, through @TourismPHL, also assured that they "will be in contact with the people involved in this irresponsible act. And [they] will take action."



Miguel Sison who works at the local government office of Alaminos City posted an official statement from the organizers of Spark Hundred Islands on his Facebook page on November 1. They claim that the project was signed off and approved by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and that extreme measures were done to "guarantee zero to minimal environmental damages." Some of the steps that were taken include the use of hydrogen gas for the balloons, the balloons supposedly flew directly to the city, use of 100% biodegradable sky lanterns, and the ongoing SCUBAsurero project.




At present, sky lanterns are illegal in Austria, Germany, and Malta because of the environmental problems they bring. "The lanterns can cause serious damage to animals when they eventually fall to the ground, with cattle having died after the metal wiring fell into their feed," reported Matt Payton of the Independent in February 2016. "If swallowed, the wire could puncture the stomach lining, and in some cases this could prove fatal," said Mike Thomas of the National Farmers' Union in the United Kingdom through The Guardian in 2010. Balloons, on the other hand, have been banned in coastal areas in the U.S. such as New Jersey and South Carolina. Despite claims of being biodegradable or eco-friendly, they still remain a threat as "latex takes about 12 months to degrade in salt water and about half that on land. "


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