This Man Launched the World's Biggest Beach Cleanup

This one man has managed to mobilize thousands of volunteers from all walks of life to clean up their environment

Jul 26, 2019

When neighbors Afroz Shah and Harbansh Mathur decided to take a stroll on Mumbai’s Versova Beach, they had no idea that it would evolve into the world’s largest beach clean up. 

As Shah, a 33-year old lawyer from Mumbai, and his neighbor, 84-year old Mathur, walked along the shore, they were appalled by the seemingly never-ending trash that they found. The waste was made up of clothing, plastic, cement, glass bottles and other litter, and reached all the way up to their shins. 

That day, they decided that the ecological atrocity could no longer be ignored, and began picking up the garbage piece by piece. 

Since then, Shah returned to the beach every weekend to collect trash, and eventually encouraged others to join him in his efforts, which he called “a date with the ocean.” Shah would invite these volunteers by going door to door explaining the damage that waste causes to marine life. He often led by example and would offer to clean public toilets and other communal spaces before he asked for help from others. 

He invited people of different backgrounds and ages to join the weekly clean-up, including local residents, slum-dwellers, famous Bollywood actors, politicians, and school kids; and as each weekend went by, more volunteers would amass. 

Their tireless efforts have paid off and, after 119 consecutive weeks, Versova Beach has been completely transformed. The sand is now visible and Shah estimates that more than 12,000 tons of plastic have been removed from the 3-km stretch of beach since starting.

 “I am an ocean lover,” says Shah, “and feel that we owe a duty to our ocean to make it free of plastic. I just hope this is the beginning for coastal communities across India and the world.”

Due to the massive cleanup efforts, Olive Ridley turtles have returned to the beach for the first time in decades.

The Olive Ridley turtle is the smallest of the sea turtle species and is classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. 

Shah continues to expand his awareness campaigns and directs his work towards preventative tools as well, such as stopping waste from entering Mumbai’s creeks. He is also magnifying his impact by encouraging other organizations to adopt clean-up efforts throughout India, especially those near important water resources, such as mangroves, which are an important defense against storm surges. 

The massive volunteer effort around Versova beach and the subsequent turtle hatchings brought incredible media and policy attention to this crucial problem. It's almost easy to forget that it all started with two neighbors picking up a little bit of trash.

HILLA BENZAKEN, CONTRIBUTOR
Hilla Benzaken is a dedicated optimist. Her happy place involves cooking, acting, gardening, and fighting for social justice. She writes about all things sustainability, innovation, and DIY.