Versova Beach in Mumbai has been undergoing an extreme conservation effort in the last two years. Local volunteers have stepped up to clean the shore, which has been covered in trash and waste that's ankle deep for ages. The Guardian reports that the United Nations has described the transformation as the “world’s largest beach cleanup project” ever. And their work has been rewarded with some serious environmental progress.
For the first time in 20 years, Olive Ridley sea turtles have hatched at Versova. The turtle is currently classified as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, because of environmental pollution like what was common on Mumbai's shore. They're the smallest and most common sea turtle, but all species are threatened by human encroachment and pollution.
Activists who have been working on the mass clean-up are absolutely ecstatic over their return, led by lawyer and conservationist Afroz Shah:
Shah, who has been leading the initiative, said farmers on the southern end of the beach had spotted adult turtles in the sand a few months earlier, and had begun to anticipate the incredible event. Then on Thursday, volunteers notified them that they'd seen hatchlings making their way across the beach to the water. Shah rushed down there with members from the Forest Department to protect the 80 hatchlings as they finished their journey.
Shah said, “I had tears in my eyes when I saw them walking towards the ocean.”
Local ecologists say it is possible the Olive Ridley turtles have been nesting on the beach without anyone noticing, but capturing this momentous occasion is a huge boon to the volunteers, who have had some resistance in the form of harassment and bureaucracy. Shah believes that Mumbai's issue with pollution comes from apathy, and a lack of connection between the people in the city and their natural environment.
“There has been a loss of a sense of belonging,” Shah said. “You can have laws, policies, regulations in place, but if the community doesn’t have a sense of belonging, you can see what happens.”
Maybe seeing the return of a native species to the beach will show folks on the fence what can be accomplished when people band together.
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