The world's largest beach clean-up

After over 20 years turtle hatchlings have been seen on Versova beach in Mumbai, thanks mainly to the efforts of one local resident.

Sea turtles return to Versova beach, Mumbai.

Sea turtles return to Versova beach, Mumbai. Source: Twitter/@AfrozShah1

Afroz Shah, a lawyer and environmentalist from Mumbai, has become synonymous with the world’s largest beach clean-up project. 

In October 2015, he and a neighbour, 84-year-old Harbansh Mathurr, who has since passed away, decided to do something about the mounting piles of decomposing waste had been overwhelming the city’s two and a half-kilometre-long Versova beach for years. 

Mr Shah told SBS Hindi that when he bought a new apartment overlooking the sea he saw so much plastic that he felt compelled to do something.

"The question was - what was that something that I would do?" he said.

"As a lawyer I could go and file in the court, a PIL in Bombay High Court or you can keep complaining as you see on social media, complain to the Prime Minister, to your elected representative or the president," he added.

"Or the complaint should be in your heart and mind saying that I am a citizen of this world, I have messed up, I must own up, and I must do something about it."

Afroz says that finally, he decided that he would take a what he described as a very Gandhian approach to the problem.

"Gandhian philosophy was to be part of the solution. I thought that I have two hands and I should start using them properly and I started work." 

Over a three year period, with the help of local volunteers, one rubbish bag at a time, Afroz Shah and his team managed to remove nearly 10 million kilograms of rubbish and waste from the beach.

"The whole edifice of this movement is on love," Mr Shah said. "The moment we start loving other human beings we start loving nature at the same time."

Afroz Shah says he is grateful for the help he has received and the friendships made.

"I always tell people that we became friends in garbage," he told SBS Hindi. "People become friends in pubs over a drink or in a coffee shop or at a college, for me as a lawyer probably some lawyers become friends in court, I became friends not only friends we became family on garbage pickups."

In 2016 he was  Champion of the Earth, Inspiration and Action, by the UN's environmental body -  the highest environmental accolade awarded by the UN. 

Afroz Shah has also received praise from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for becoming the first Indian to get the award.

"For this work the UNEP gave Mr Afroz Shah a big award," Prime Minister Modi said in 2017, "I congratulate Mr Afroz Shah and his movement and the way he got all the people of the area involved and created this movement that itself is an inspirational example."

Sea turtle hatchlings return

This year, for the first time in over two decades, Olive Ridley sea turtle hatchlings were seen on the beach. The species is currently listed as a 'vulnerable' species.  Although the turtles may be the most abundant sea turtle on the planet, some conservationists argue they are also exploited. 

Yes yes .. We did it .. Thank you Afroz . Here is the journey . lovely Mumbaikars . we did . Urban cities getting our olive Ridley turtle back . — Clean Up Versova (@versovabeach) March 22, 2018
 According to the Marine Turtle Specialist Group of the , there has been a 50% reduction in population size since the 1960s.  

Ecstatic moment for all us citizens by the coast of mumbai😍 Couldn't have a better morning. Couldn't expect too see something like this at Versova Beach. #OliveRidley #Turtles #CleanSeas #BeatPollution — Aman Keshwani (@KeshwaniAman) March 22, 2018
India will be hosting the global World Environment Day celebrations on 5 June 2018, with the theme “Beat Plastic Pollution”.  The country's environment ministry issued a directive recently to ban plastics in all protected areas across the country, declaring them "plastic free zones". 

According to the 

  • Every year the world uses 500 billion plastic bags
  • Each year, at least 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans, the equivalent of a full garbage truck every minute.
  • In the last decade, we produced more plastic than in the whole last century
  • 50 percent of the plastic we use is single-use or disposable
  • We buy 1 million plastic bottles every minute
  • Plastic makes up 10% of all of the waste we generate
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4 min read
Published 7 May 2018 at 12:20pm
By Pallavi Jain, Maya Jamieson