Husker balloon found on New York beach
New York marine biologist Alyssa Lefebvre often picks up trash from beaches when she tests ocean water across Long Island.
She has found zip ties, straws and other plastic trash.
On Tuesday, she found what she called “the holy grail” — a red balloon with an “N” on one side and “Huskers” on the other.
She has picked up remnants of balloons from graduation parties and birthday celebrations, but the Husker balloon was different because it may have come from so far away — 1,400 miles — and was still intact.
“What surprised me was that this one had an accountability factor to it,” said Lefebvre, 26. “I’m not necessarily surprised that it came this far because I know things travel extremely far and fast. This balloon clearly must have hitched a ride.”
At first, in the frigid rain, Lefebvre didn’t recognize the team name. She thought that it might be the Huskies from Connecticut.
Lefebvre, who works for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, found the balloon on the beach near the hamlet of Amagansett. She carried it back to the truck to her two co-workers and pulled out her phone to research.
Lefebvre found that the Nebraska football fan tradition of releasing thousands of balloons in Memorial Stadium after the first Husker score was a hotly discussed topic.
Van DeWald, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Valley, said it is possible for a balloon to travel great distances if it gets caught up in the jet stream.
“If a balloon can get up into 25,000 feet in the atmosphere, it can ride along with the winds until something brings it down,” DeWald said. “It certainly could have made it anywhere in the country.”
Husker balloons have previously been found in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois.
This year, a Florida-based environmental group called Balloons Blow purchased a billboard in Lincoln urging officials to end the practice. In 2016, a man filed a federal lawsuit against the University of Nebraska over the balloons, but the suit was dismissed.
Lefebvre posts photos of the trash she finds on an Instagram account to raise awareness of the impact of litter. She tagged the Huskers in her post and wrote: “The ~3,000 balloons you release per GAME are littering my beaches all the way out here in East Hampton, NY.”
Officials at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said in August that the balloons released at Memorial Stadium are “100 percent natural latex biodegradable” and that they have “100 percent cotton strings.”
Lefebvre, who has received some not-so-Nebraska-nice comments from Husker fans on her post, said Friday that she wanted to make it clear that she’s a football fan. She understands and respects the tradition.
But she cares about the environment. If she didn’t pick up the balloon, she said, animals could have eaten it, or it could have gotten washed out to sea with the next high tide.
“I love school spirit; I understand why they’re so possessive over this,” she said. “Just because it’s a tradition, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the only option, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best option.”