After the world’s largest beach cleanup at a beach in Mumbai, turtles returned to lay eggs for the first time in 20 years. Nature returns if we make space for it.
Afroz Shah, the mastermind behind this massive beach cleanup stated how he wanted to give people a sense of belonging. He is a young Indian lawyer from the city of Mumbai. He had also been awarded the United Nation’s top environmental accolade, which is the Champions of the Earth award, back in 2016 for his dedicated efforts to clean up the Versova Beach.
Afroz has led volunteers for the last 2 years to pick up trash from Versova Beach. He has also taught villagers and slum dwellers about the importance of sustainable waste practices.
The Beach Cleanup Story: How Did It All Begin?
Afroz and Harbansh Mathur, his neighbor, were quite frustrated with loads of waste that had apparently washed up on the beach, in October 2015. They were determined to do something about it and started to clean up the beach themselves. They picked up one piece of junk at a time.
They had worked alone for 6-8 weeks but were joined by 2 men after some days. This was when Afroz realized that the beach cleanup was going to be a success.
Afroz was a lawyer and could have taken the legal path but he was sure that it would take time. It might not even serve the purpose it was meant to do. He also thought about complaining to the Municipal Corporation.
Afroz finally decided that it was time to clean the beach up himself, and said, “We have to be the change ourselves. Why wait for others to do it? We have to believe that the solution lies with us.”
He interpreted that the public had lost their sense of belonging and hence, did not care about the beach cleanup.
“You can have laws, policies, regulations in place, but if the community doesn’t have a sense of belonging, you can see what happens.”
Afroz believes in a 1v1 approach and had rallied the people in his housing complex as well as several fishermen, to aid him in his task. He explained how the litter was causing damage to the marine animals. He is currently planning to expand his work and prevent the trash of the local creeks from moving onto the beach.
“My idea has always been to involve people in different ways so that we can handle litter at source,” Afroz says.
How Whatsapp Helped In The Beach Cleanup
This movement has now grown from just 2 to 70,000+ people and over 60,000 students. They have been visiting the beach for over 3 years to clean it. Afroz worked hard on social media to catch people’s attention. Whatsapp was an important vehicle to communicate the time, date, and location of the beach cleanups. Afroz uses Broadcast Lists to communicate the details of the beach cleanup, which is then shared further, by the recipients.
Afroz has inspired several people to join him, which includes slum dwellers to big names in Bollywood.
Afroz uses Whatsapp groups as a coordination tool with various core groups associated with the cleanups. These include the civic bodies, corporates, and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) groups.
“A few days ago, you must have heard that the Versova beach in Mumbai, which was infamous for its filth has now transformed into a clean and beautiful beach. People toiled for about 80-90 weeks unceasingly and turned Versova beach around by extracting thousands of tonnes of waste materials, and today Versova beach is clean and beautiful,” Prime Minister Modi said in his radio message.
The Biggest Pay-Off For The Movement
The biggest pay-off arrived when Olive Ridley turtles hatchlings were found after the beach cleanup. Around 80 turtles had made their way into the sea from their respective nests on Versova Beach.
They were also protected from dogs and birds by the volunteers, who slept in the sand to keep an eye on them.
Afroz had also started cleanups for the mangrove forests on the coastline, which works as a natural defense against storm surges.
The Next Step For Afroz
Afroz is quite proud of his accomplishment. His beach cleanup drive had brought the attention of powerful people towards marine litter.
After the successful clean-up drive in Mumbai’s Versova Beach, Afroz Shah has embarked on yet another mission to clean the city’s longest river – Mithi. WhatsApp continues to be an enabler of his efforts.
Image Credit: Keenan Adams