Afroz Shah turns landfill beach into turtle hatchery
Afroz Shah, a lawyer from Mumbai, remembers going to the beach as a child. “I used to play here and the beach used to be very, very clean,” he says, “It was purely simple.” In October 2015 Versova beach in Mumbai had become a dumping ground for plastic and trash. The entire two and a half kilometre stretch of beach beach was covered in a layer of over five feet of decomposing plastic waste. Frustrated by the mountains of trash piling up on the beach, Shah began cleaning up the beach by hand, alone. Every weekend he would go to Versova beach and collect trash with gloves and a bucket.
For six to eight weeks, he says, he worked alone. One day “two men approached me and said, very politely, ‘Please sir, can we wear your gloves?’ Both of them just came and joined me.” He says that when volunteers began joining him for what he called his “date with the ocean,” that is when he knew the beach cleanup would be a success.
More volunteers joined in and what began as Afroz Shah’s personal mission to clean up his childhood beach became the largest beach cleanup project in the world. Hundreds of volunteers used anything they could from bulldozers and dump trucks to their hands to collect trash from the beach. Over two years Shah and the other volunteers collected 13 million kg of debris and continue to collect trash despite facing harassment.
In 2018 turtle hatchlings were spotted on Versova beach for the first time in decades. At least 80 vulnerable Olive Ridley turtles have hatched and crawled to the ocean from the beach that was drowning in plastic only two years ago. “I had tears in my eyes when I saw them walking towards the ocean” says Shah.
He has picked up plastic every day for over 112 weeks in a row and also works to educate local communities on proper recycling and trash disposal. Shah’s personal mission to clean up the beach inspired hundreds of volunteers and has recreated Versova beach as a turtle hatchery through successful cleanup and increased awareness, with less new litter appearing on the beach. He to expand his operation to Mangrove forests and local creeks, and hopes to inspire others in India and around the world to start their own cleanup projects. “We are in for the long haul,” he says, “and every citizen on this planet must be in for the long haul.”