Meet the man behind world’s largest beach cleanup projects

In October 2015, Afroz and his neighbour Harbansh Mathur, an 84-year-old, were frustrated with the piles of decomposing waste that had washed up and completely overwhelmed Versova beach. Determined to do something about it, the pair started cleaning up the beach themselves, one piece of trash at a time.

For the first six to eight weeks, nobody joined. One fine day, two men approached Afroz and asked to join him. That was when Afroz knew it was going to be a success.Afroz, who believes in a one-on-one, hands-on, sleeves-rolled-up approach, rallied residents and fisherfolk by knocking on doors and explaining the damage marine litter causes.

He now plans to expand his group’s operation to prevent litter from washing down the local creek and onto the beach. “My idea has always been to involve people in different ways so that we can handle litter at source,” he says.

Starting with just the duo, the movement has grown to see over 70,000 adults and 60,000 students (who clean in roster batches of 100) come together over three years to help rid the beach of trash. 

His work in Mumbai inspired another WhatsApp group consisting of former schoolmates to come together and clean. The group ‘Beach Please’ gathers every week, mostly on the weekends, to clean the stretch of beach around Chaitya Bhoomi, Shivaji Park, and have collected 40 tonnes of waste so far.

The biggest pay-off for the campaign came when Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings were spotted after the cleanup of Versova beach by Afroz Shah and volunteers. At least 80 Olive Ridley turtles made their way into the Arabian Sea from nests on the southern end of Versova beach, protected from wild dogs and birds of prey by volunteers who slept overnight in the sand to watch over them. 

Afroz is deservedly proud of the Versova residents’ accomplishments. Not only has the movement brought marine littler to the attention of decision-makers, it is also starting to win back the beach, with decreasing amounts of new litter appearing each month.

After the successful clean-up drive in Mumbai’s Versova Beach, Afroz Shah has embarked on yet another mission to clean the city’s longest river – Mithi

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