Versova Beach, in Mumbai, has never been known for attracting sunbathers. At one point, it was covered in at least 5 and a half feet of garbage.
“A man could drown in the plastic,” Mumbai lawyer and community activist Afroz Shah told the Guardian.
Today, the beach is not only clean, it’s attracting new visitors. In particular, a group of 80 baby olive ridley sea turtles, making their way to the Arabian Sea.
And all thanks to Shah and his friends.
For nearly two years, Global Citizen reports, Shah and hundreds of volunteers dedicated themselves to cleaning up the dump that was once Versova Beach. They cleared 11,684,500 pounds of trash from the beach and upstream rivers, cleaned 52 public toilets, and planted 50 coconut trees. They also taught the local community how to properly dispose or recycle their non-organic waste.
Shah’s initiative is being hailed by the United Nations as the largest beach clean-up project in history, and it’s truly making a difference. The last turtle seen on Versova Beach left more than 20 years ago. Seeing the babies return was a momentous event for the community, and everyone who pitched in to help.
“I had tears in my eyes when I saw them walking towards the ocean,” Shah said.
The U.N. has awarded Shah with its “Champion of the Earth” award. Versova Beach is now the cleanest in Mumbai.
“I am an ocean lover and feel that we owe a duty to our ocean to make it free of plastic,” he told the UN. “I just hope this is the beginning for coastal communities across India and the world.”
Shah’s volunteers aren’t done with their work yet. Many of them are watching over the turtles as they make their way back to the water, protecting them from birds and stray dogs. They’re also getting the first glimpse at an event that could not have happened without their work.
“There has been a loss of a sense of belonging,” Shah told the Guardian. “You can have laws, policies, regulations in place, but if the community doesn’t have a sense of belonging, you can see what happens.”
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.