Mumbai, 11 Oct: In a way, Mangroves represent the spirit of Mumbai – they are plucky survivors. Each day, millions of citizens in Mumbai pass these hardy plants along the coast, imagining they are little more than dirty, muddy weeds growing pointlessly along the shoreline.
Nor can they be blamed. For the most common sight of mangroves is that of dull grey-green trees and shrubs, looking like deformed Christmas trees hung not with tinsel and glitter but filthy plastic bags and scraps of cloth and other garbage thrown up by the tides. Seen like this, it is difficult for people to understand how important mangroves are for the quality of life of the citizens of Mumbai.
In the last decade, the coast of Mumbai has suffered considerable loss of this protection to our shoreline. The city has probably lost 40% (9,000 acres) of all its mangroves in the past decade or so, largely because of reclamation for housing, slums, sewage treatment and garbage dumps.
The worst affected area in Mumbai is the entire western front (see map), except for Carter Road in Bandra, where the ecosystem has actually grown, the trees have also registered an increase in height in the last 10 years. This is possible due to NGOs who play a significant role in terms of gathering funds and manpower which are integral components of restoration and management programs.
One environmental warrior, Rahul Nagnath Kawde (30), runs Swachha Vasundhara Abhiyaan, an NGO working to preserve and restore the mangrove ecosystem since 2021. His base of operations encompasses beaches and mangroves in Mahim and Bandra, and Carter Road has been a focus point for him.
In an online interview with Spice Enquirer, Kawde talked about what set him off on his mangrove mission. During the pandemic, he consumed a lot of content about the environment, including the destruction and degradation of mangroves. So inspired was he to do something about the problem, that he gave up his dream of becoming a Civil Servant (Deputy Collector) and started to think of cleaning mangroves.
After a month of research, Rahul decided to go with Bandra’s Carter Road to clean the mangrove with three friends. To his surprise, he got willing hands to help with this initiative and he started spreading awareness in his local community as well.
When asked how he convinced people about the importance of what he was doing, e-sustainability, and the effectiveness of the programme, Rahul said, “The mangroves act as a natural barrier against floods, protect the shoreline from soil erosion, and absorb almost eight times more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than any other ecosystem. We just describe this to people.”
While talking about the challenges faced during the cleaning, Kawde said, “One of the biggest challenges is the amount of plastic and cloth waste thrown up on the mangroves. They get so entangled that removed them is very difficult and requires us to be hands on. Sometimes, they are almost strangling the plats and skill and strength are required to disentangle. It requires extreme care to remove without any damage.
“It is also very challenging during monsoon season due to high tides. But we manage to collect plastic waste, including bottles, polythene bags, and wrappers. We also remove invasive plants and clear debris”, he adds.
Asked whether Indian beaches could ever be as clean and attractive as those one sees abroad, Kawde is non-committal. He said, “In foreign countries, they use a gigantic system of nets to hold the plastics from going deep in the sea”. The inference is that we would then not be subjected to what the ocean throws back on land during high tide. He also feels the government should take the initiative to install ocean cleanup technologies like plastic-munching machines, gigantic nets, micro plastic-dissolving technologies, etc. These are clever ways to remove plastics from the ocean.
Kawde highlighted his plans to Safeguard the Mangroves Ecosystem of Western Mumbai he collaborated and signed a MoU and partnered with the mangrove cell of the state forest department and the mangroves and Marine biodiversity conservation Foundation (Govt. Of Maharashtra) to adopt degraded wetlands at Carter Road, Bandra West for protection and conservation along with regular clean-up Activities with the aim to restore Mumbai’s depleted mangrove cover. They have signed this MoU for the 2nd time consecutive year . In the previous partnership with them they managed to clear 48,590 Kgs of plastic from Carter road, Mangroves and sent it for Recycling. They have made this a YOUTH MOVEMENT to conserve & restore Carter road, Mangroves.
He gives himself goals. One of them was to be recognized for his work by former state minister for the environment Aditya Thackeray. He thought it would take a year at least for his work to register, but he fulfilled his aspiration in just two months!
Through his work, Kawde has linked up with a number of schools, spreading awareness about the mangroves among children as young as 7 or 8 years. It is hard and dirty work, but every time he completes a job, he can look at his handwork with great satisfaction.
It is this feeling that what he is doing really matters to Mumbai, that keeps him going.
Written by Vaishnavi Rasanbhaire, Mariyam Shaikh, Premsimran Saini. (Journalism and Digital Media)
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