Suffolk: Sea is no dustbin, MP is told after Chinese lantern tweets

Therese Coffey MP

Therese Coffey MP - Credit: Archant

A national conservation group has told a Suffolk MP that the “sea is not a dustbin” after she seemingly suggested Chinese lanterns do not cause harm if they are released over the coast.

Therese Coffey’s comments on social media site Twitter have attracted criticism from the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) who claim the lanterns pose a choking hazard in the sea or when washed up.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency have also sounded a note of caution about lantern releases, claiming that they have previously sparked emergency investigations after being mistaken for distress beacons.

Tweeting yesterday, Dr Coffey said: “I understand the concerns on Chinese lanterns but I also know how people love to release them on coastal shores. Need to find balance.”

When it was suggested the lanterns could drift back to land, Dr Coffey replied air currents would ensure they went out to sea.

A tweet from the MCS said: “The sea is not a dustbin! Lanterns can harm wildlife at sea & on land.”

Mike Cook, head of conservation for the MCS, said as well as being a fire risk, lanterns were also a danger for wildlife through choking and entanglement when they fall back to earth or float out to sea.

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He added: “Lanterns floating over the sea have been mistaken for distress flares. We have received reports of numerous false alarms for the coastguard and RNLI. MCS volunteers regularly find bits of lanterns on beaches during the hundreds of beach cleans we carry out every year.

“The paper may have gone but the frames are still intact and dangerous – both to humans and marine wildlife. These mobile fireballs have to come down somewhere and it’s often on farmland or out at sea.”

Speaking yesterday afternoon Dr Coffey said: “After the fire at Smethwick, I fully understand the concerns about lanterns – an issue that has been raised in the countryside and marine organisations for some time. Meanwhile, many people flock to our coastal towns on special occasions and enjoy the release of lanterns out to sea at night.

“I think we need to be balanced in our reactions and careful when considering the idea of a blanket ban. I welcome views from constituents on the matter.”