Two years after it first began, volunteers celebrate visible improvements on Mumbai’s Versova beach

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Ahead of World Environment Day, 6,000 people flocked to the Versova beach to lend their support in beating plastic pollution. It is one of the largest ever beach clean-ups in India, bringing together residents, business heads, government leaders, the coast guard and the Central Reserve Police Force to the Mumbai beach. More than 200,000 kgs of trash was collected from the beach. Many organizations were felicitated for their contribution to the 136 week-long clean-up.

 

Two years ago you could barely walk on the beach”, recalls twenty-five resident of Mumbai Pooja Choudhry. “We started hearing that people were joining Afroz Shah at the beach on weekends to clean-up and so it became a habit for us,” she added.

 

“The Versova beach clean-ups are so important because they demonstrate what happens when the rank and file of this planet stand up for the environment, making the world a cleaner and much better place to live,” said Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment.

 

Plastic pollution is an ever-growing environmental issue. Estimates are that 13 million tonnes of plastics get dumped into our oceans every year. “Beat Plastic Pollution”, the theme for World Environment Day 2018, calls for unity and collaboration in the fight against one of the most urgent environmental challenges of our time.

 

“Whenever I talk to young people about the need to clean up our environment, I tend to begin with an apology, because its their future we are destroying, says Afroz Shah, environmental activist and UN Champion of the Earth. Policies and legal instruments need to be accompanied by citizen action that taps into our love for nature.”

 

The event on Versova beach triumphantly underscored the heroic efforts of Afroz Shah, who has lead community teams in weekly beach cleanups around Mumbai for the past three years, sparking cleanups of rivers, lakes and park around India.

 

Dia Mirza, UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador said, “Its time for each of us to look at the way we live, and reduce our consumption of single-use plastic. Its easy and its possible. There is an incredible revolution underway.”

 

Rajiv Rai Bhatnagar, Director General of the Central Reserve Police Force, says the Indian force entrusted with the internal security of the nation is equally keen to be a force for a swachh bharat or a clean India. “Hundreds of our camps are plastic-free and we regularly help with beach clean-ups and other environmental initiatives”, he said.  

 

The fishing communities along the Versova beach are committed to removing plastic and litter from the beach and the sea, pitching in every weekend to help deal with the growing battle against plastic pollution.

 

“Plastic pollution in the sea has made fishing difficult for us. More than 60 percent of what we catch is plastic” says Ranjit Kale, a fisherman living on Versova beach.

 

“Twenty years ago when we were children, Versova beach was really clean. Today, it’s covered with plastic waste. Back then we had plenty of fish in the sea closer to the beach. Now we have to travel further into the sea which means more diesel and eventually drives up coast,” says Devendra Kale, Chairman Versova Fishing Community.

 

In March 2018, the cleanup efforts even resulted in the return of the Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings to the beach, after the once litter strewn-stretch of sand had returned into a place that was habitable for the turtles.

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