This beach clean-up hero from India has won against his war on plastic. On his quest to stop oceans and rivers from being a graveyard of trash and plastic, activist and lawyer Afroz Shah successfully cleaned Versova Beach in Mumbai from all the accumulated trash five feet high that it was once covered in, in 2015.
According to the United Nations, Versova beach underwent the “world’s largest beach cleanup project” for two years and from a shin-deep dump year, it was transformed to a pristine piece of coastline for leisure and recreation.
“My ocean’s belly is full of plastic. But at Versova we told the world, we can do it and we will continue to do it,” said Shah.
In 2018, at least 80 hatchlings of a vulnerable turtle species called the Olive Ridley was spotted for the first time in decades and made their way into the Arabian sea from the southern end of Versova. Volunteers slept in the beach just to protect these babies from wild dogs and birds of prey.
The Olive Ridley species has an olive-green hue on its upper shell, and is the smallest and most abundant sea turtle found in the ocean, although classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Two years after Shah started this beach cleanup in 2015, the activist has been teaching and leading volunteers to clean up trash from any beach, as sustainable waste practices. He has also shared his knowledge to some 55,000 people living that live in the slums along the coastline and creeks.
Shah said the clean-up has taught them by example, offering his help to clean their communal toilets and picking up the rubbish, before they even offered to join along.
“For the first six to eight weeks, nobody joined,” Shah said. “Then two men approached me and said, very politely, ‘Please sir, can we wear your gloves?’ Both of them just came and joined me. That’s when I knew it was going to be a success.”
Now, there is a new project target that Shah has set his sights on. The River Mithi which is 17km long, is so polluted that it’s been known as an ‘open drain.’ He wants the two million people that are living around it to care for their surroundings and its future. The Mithi clean-up will involve the residents in what is called a ‘circular economy’ which will teach them to reuse and resell the items that are being thrown away.
The use of plastic for medicine and food to keep them sterile and fresh has drastically changed the world we live in. Its disposal has reached a global pollution crisis that has no means to an end.
India has some of the most polluted bodies of water and beaches due to its unprepared city planning, overpopulation and public littering.
“There has been a loss of a sense of belonging. You can have laws, policies, regulations in place, but if the community doesn’t have a sense of belonging, you can see what happens,” said Afroz Shah.