Beaches are one of the most heavenly places present on earth. You can stand and watch this beautiful place where sea and sky appear to meet from under the palm tree’s shade – it is pure bliss! Beaches can cater to all our needs – as children we make sand castles, as adults we can sunbathe, and elderly people can take long morning walks. But whenever there’s something beautiful, it attracts more and more people and as usual more people means more pollutants along with them. Yes, even these beautiful beaches have not been spared from our menacing habit of polluting and littering. The Versova Beach in Mumbai is an example. Or was – till one man decided to do something about it.
A Paradise that went bad
Versova Beach is located in the north-western part of Mumbai. It is not very crowded but it has a special significance for the locals – it is a good fishing ground. But that was ages ago. Versova Beach was a pristine place that turned into a dumping yard with shin-deep garbage littered all around. Plus, these are not your average biodegradable waste. These are land-clogging plastic wastes! From a beautiful beach of the past, the Versova beach became hellish, with pollution at its peak. It stopped being a place of diverse aquatic life – one of the many consequences of waste.
Consequences of waste
Studies are already showing what landfills and wastes could do to a place, especially when it is plastic wastes. Unlike normal biodegradable products, plastic wastes take millions of years to decompose. The result – an ugly clogging of the soil and land. Land wastes, especially when it is plastic, will hold up the land, clog it, and not let any air through. The soil loses its fertility and whatever diverse animal life would have loved to settle on that part slowly disappears from the changing landscape. The ugliness cannot be called their home. Land pollution is a serious issue and wastes are leading the list of the causes. And yet, we fail to do anything. We are still using plastic and throwing them anywhere we want. Most cities do not even have proper waste management equipment to deal with the numerous plastic products they use. The condition almost seems hopeless. Until Lawyer Afroz Shah showed up.
When the going gets tough
Afroz Shah, a lawyer and an environmentalist, had spent his life across the clean and beautiful Versova Beach as a child. So, when he saw how the pristine beach has turned into a nightmare with all the plastic waste littered around, he knew what he had to do. Singlehandedly, he went in with the indomitable spirit to give life back to his childhood beach and began what the UN has called the ‘the world’s largest beach cleanup project’.
Afroz Shah was hopeful and strong in his purpose. First, he educated the locals on sustainable waste management to prevent littering. He started alone and though cleaning up the waste looked impossible, he continued for six to eight weeks with no one coming to his help. But then, two people showed up, and that was just the beginning!
In due time, from school children to elders, many people picked up gloves and started taking part in the long process of cleaning the beach. It took time – about 3 years. And the efforts led to brilliant results. The volunteers were able to collect about 5 MILLION kilograms of plastic waste in 85 weeks. Now, Versova beach is quite clean and is slowly transforming towards the pristine beach that Shah holds in his memory and plans to restore.
Bringing back the balance
But beauty is not only for the people – the most marvelous moment came in the form of turtles. The endangered Olive Ridley turtles who had not returned to this coastline of Mumbai were seen again, after 20 long years! They found it suitable for their nesting now. Just one effort from Shah and the volunteers has restored the lost balance of nature.
According to the Wildlife Institute of India, this is a natural consequence – beach clean-ups will have a positive effect on nesting turtles. Their efforts paid off when they first spotted the endangered hatchling moving up the beach. But that’s just the beginning – within a week – a minimum of 80 Olive Ridley turtles were found making their way into the Arabian sea from the southern end of Versova beach. The amazing sight brought tears in Shah’s eyes. The volunteers stood guard for the entire night till the turtles made their way into the sea without being threatened by any kind of predators.
It took just one man and one initiative to bring everyone together. Afroz Shah proved that there is no lack of inspiration in the world – you can be one yourself. You just need to take the right step. Presently, the news goes that 30,000 school children are working with Shah to clean the Versova beach. They know that even a weekend of effort can bring a difference in the world. For Shah, the past vision of his childhood beach was the push – the image of the Olive Ridley turtles a reward!
What are you waiting for? Be a part of the movement to clean the world – or be the change yourself. Be the inspiration!