For the first time in nearly two decades, a beach in Mumbai – one of the most populated cities in the world – is crawling with tiny baby turtles, proving that life truly does, uh, find a way.
Versova beach stretches along the eastern side of Mumbai, looking out onto the Arabian Sea. While olive ridley turtles are known to nest on other beaches around India, this is the first time in close to 20 years that they have done so in Mumbai, with around 90 hatchlings making their way into the sea.
What makes this story all the more amazing is that until around three years ago, Versova beach was a dump. Literally. Plastic washed up on the shore, people threw their trash onto it, and sewage pipes dribbled into the water. It was covered from the surf to sand in garbage that, by some reports, reached up to 1.7 meters (5.5 feet) in depth in places. People didn’t swim in the ocean, they swam in plastic.
But in 2015, a young lawyer called Afroz Shah decided he’d had enough. What started with just him and his 84-year-old neighbor snowballed into a weekly event that got the backing of the UN, more than 1,000 volunteers to partipate, and became what is thought to be one of the world’s largest beach clean-ups. Within just a few years, they had collected around 5,000 tonnes (5,500 tons) of trash, transforming the entire 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) of beach.
It was earlier this week that Shah’s hard work was vindicated, as on his latest beach clean-up day with other volunteers, they spotted hatchlings scuttling across the sand and making a dash for the sea, before calling forest officials to make sure the baby turtles made their way safely.
“We found around 90-95 olive ridley hatchlings... and the volunteers safely released them to the sea,” environmental officer with the Maharashtra state government, Prashant Deshmukh, told AFP. “The turtles have returned to Mumbai's coastline after nearly 20 years. This is big news and the clean-up drive seems to be yielding results.”
While olive ridley turtles are the most common sea turtle, they are still classed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN. They nest on other beaches around the Indian coast and return to the same one from which they hatched, but typically not near locations quite as densely populated as in Mumbai. Here’s hoping that more will return year on year.
And if you ever need motivation for what a single person can do to help the natural world, check out Shah's story below.