‘We only have one planet’ After finding dead bird, local woman raising awareness about releasing balloons

SANDBRIDGE, Va. - Sandbridge Beach is where Liz Romero Kibiloski walks two miles every day at sunrise.

"This is my gift, this is my way of giving back," she stated.

Her walks are not just about soaking in the salt air; each stride serves a deeper purpose.

"I usually pick up a couple bags of trash, the tourists leave so much behind," she said.

Plastic is usually what Romero-Kibiloski patrols for.

"I find plastic, fabric, everything - even little tiny micro plastic pieces that birds can get," she explained.

But the day after Mother's Day and a weekend full of graduations, she found much more than just plastic.

"The first thing I saw were three balloons - boom, boom, boom," she said. "Then right after that I found a Northern gannet. [It] looked like a balloon ribbon wrapped around its neck and it was dead."

Wildlife, strangled by the tattered remnants of someone releasing a form of remembrance.

"It made me sad to think someone thought that balloon was somehow going to heaven and Mom would see it and it could harm wildlife," she stated.

"It is really easy for wild animals and domestic animals to mistake balloons for food, it is something that can get lodged in their throats," said Mike Lawson with Virginia Beach SPCA.

Environmentalists say balloons can take years to break down, traveling hundreds or thousands of miles, then falling back to the earth and wreaking havoc on wildlife.

"We are all  gifted with this beautiful planet. There is no "Planet B," and there are other ways to remember. Try a pinwheel, planting a garden or dedicate a bench," said Romero.

Romero-Kibiloski found 11 balloons on that Monday morning walk and hopes they will be her last.

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