They say the trash and garbage in places was 5 feet deep on Mumbai’s Versova Beach on the west coast of India. But that did not deter Afroz Shah and his 84-year old neighbor from digging in on the world’s largest beach clean-up.  

versova beach mumbai world's largest beach clean-up plastic pollution hindustan Times

Shah rallied the local community and within the year more than 1200 volunteers joined their cause. They removed over 11 million pounds of trash! Mumbai’s newspapers broadcast the story and soon the UN declared their efforts to be the World’s Largest Beach Clean-up. (photo – Shashi S Kashyap/Hindustan Times)

The Unimaginable Happens

The community had transformed their favorite beach from an unhealthy eyesore to a place of enjoyment. But the most dramatic news was still to unfold. Shah started hearing reports from farmers that they were seeing turtles on the sand at the southern end of the 3 km beach. “The moment we got that news I knew something big was going to happen.” Because of the extreme pollution on Versova Beach, it had been decades since sea turtles had last nested there. If the sightings were true, this would be an extraordinary development.

versova beach mumbai afroz shah olive ridley sea turtles hatching world's largest beach clean-up plastic pollution debris trash

During a regular beach clean-up, volunteers saw rare Olive Ridley sea turtle hatchlings scampering across the sand. Upon hearing the news Shah and his team rushed to the beach and camped overnight to guard each hatchling as it raced to the sea.

“I had tears in my eyes when I saw them walking towards the ocean” Shah said.

Not only had Shah and his team restored the beach for humans, they had rehabilitated it for marine species! (photo – Afroz Shah)

The Olive Ridley are the smallest species of sea turtle in the ocean. Although they are abundant, they are still listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“I am an ocean lover and feel that we owe a duty to our ocean to make it free of plastic,” Shah said “I just hope this is the beginning for coastal communities across India and the world.”

 

What Truly Devoted Individuals Can Accomplish!

Reflecting on his accomplishment Shah says his efforts are as much about transforming his community as they are about cleaning away the trash.

“There has been a loss of a sense of belonging,” said Shah. “You can have laws, policies, regulations in place, but if the community doesn’t have a sense of belonging, you can see what happens.”

Overpopulation, unplanned urbanization and apathy has led India to having some of the world’s most polluted coastlines and waterways. So the message that Afroz Shah and his neighbors bring to their community is much needed. To the wider world, Afroz inspires with what just one devoted individual can accomplish to make the world a better place.

By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network

More about the history of this story: The Plastic Ocean was a round-up of all the positive initiatives undertaken around the world in 2016 to combat ocean pollution. In that article we reported the inspiring story of how two friends undertook the seemingly impossible task of cleaning up one of the world’s most polluted beaches.

 

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