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A Date with the Ocean

By Garima Goswami, 21 Sep, 2016
  • A Date with the Ocean
  • A Date with the Ocean
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Together with his team of volunteers, Afroz Shah has cleared more than four million pounds of trash from Versova beach in Western Mumbai.

India’s most populous city, Mumbai, is leading the way in campaigning against waste management at beaches with its successfully running clean-up campaign at Versova beach, one of the many beaches in Mumbai and India that is presently under a garbage crisis. Together with his team of volunteers, Afroz Shah has cleared more than four million pounds of waste from Versova beach’s 1.5-mile stretch of coastline facing the Arabian Sea in western Mumbai. The campaign is performing exceptionally well in terms of local participation and awareness. “It’s a date with the ocean every Sunday,” Shah explains with a laugh.

A lawyer at Bombay High Court, Shah is widely known as a passionate environmentalist and a beach lover who arrives with his cleaning gear and team of volunteers on weekends at Versova beach. “I am an ocean lover. According to me, ocean gives life to humanity. The fine balance between water, tree and human being is what sustainable development is according to me.”

From a very young age, this ocean lover has stood up for environment conservation methods. As a student, Shah worked towards saving the mangroves and spreading awareness to highlight their role in environment. “Mangroves are the roots of ocean, they are ecologically sensitive and fragile and now Bombay High Court has declared it as a protected forest, [although] it wasn’t earlier.”

In his latest campaign, Clean-Up Versova beach, Shah has gathered massive support ranging from locals and celebrities to environmentalists and civic bodies while exposing the global society to a pressing issue – marine pollution.

Whether or not your local beach is congested with plastic and waste material, if we continue producing plastic at the current rate without engaging appropriate measures to dispose and recycle, plastics in our ocean will outweigh fishes by 2050, according to World Economic Forum.

Industrial waste continuously disrupts marine ecosystem with toxic substances such as mercury and DDT that dangerously penetrates into its habitats. Plastic, an underestimated threat, coagulates into garbage patches that eventually gets transported on to beaches and remote islands before oceans consume a majority of it into their habitat.

Shah responds on the plastic epidemic saying “The problem is not with the plastic; it’s how people react to plastic. There is some kind of indifference and apathy towards plastic. You clean your house, wash your body and that’s exactly what the oceans require. Just because they are humongous in size, doesn’t mean you should be neglecting them.”

When it comes to waste management in India, little is what’s been done. Local municipalities have no infrastructure to segregate waste and therefore the public cares the least on the matter. Most recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi triggered a debate on cleanliness by launching the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission) which was reciprocated strongly in debates and weakly in implementation.

“Now for 70 years in this country nothing has happened, as far as ocean and plastic goes. Every day you see a degradation in terms of that you saw the previous day. I asked myself, what can I do to help the ocean and to save the environment. According to me, the solution lies with the individual and not the government eventually. Government will fill the formation work but it’s the individual who’ll have to make the policies work,” the lawyer points.
 
In the case of Versova beach’s clean-up campaign, Shah admits that ideally all the garbage should be recycled but the amplified scale and depth of it makes segregation an almost impossible task. Local authorities have been informed and consulted on mechanisms to ethically dispose waste but there has been little progress there as well. Taking the onus on himself, Shah has consulted green tech companies and has grouped in the local fishermen community with a potential scheme of handing them recyclable material which they can sell to scrap collectors and earn money in return. 
 
Lewis Pugh, a world-class swimmer, a maritime lawyer, and a global advocate for cleaner oceans, recently participated in the clean-up drive volunteered by about 400 Versova residents and the civic body. Pugh, who is also the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) Patron of the Oceans, told Scroll media “I have never in my life seen so much litter on a beach, on any beach in the whole world.” Impressed with the campaign at Versova beach, Pugh lauded the work of the volunteers and Shah in raising awareness and taking continuous action towards its reformation.
 
The campaign has definitely received global attention and regardless of whether or not you have a clean beach, what’s relevant is that we are continuously intoxicating our oceans. Shah plans on expanding the reach of the campaign by taking to other beaches in Mumbai and eventually pan-India. “We are working to get schools and bodies involved in the campaign and make it part of their curriculum. It is all theoretical [at present], we want to make it practical.” He is in touch with the local civic body, federal government and the United Nations in taking the work to the next level. 

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