Imagine going to your favorite beach or park and finding it covered in trash. Now imagine that trash is so deep, when you try to walk on it, you sink up to your shoulders — or higher. That’s what it was like on Versova Beach in Mumbai, India. Over the years, thousands of tons of plastic and other debris had washed ashore on Versova Beach, covering the once-beautiful sand and making it a place where no one wanted to hang out — that is, until two friends decided they’d had enough.
Big Journeys Start with Small Steps
In the fall of 2015, Afroz Shah, a young lawyer, and his friend and neighbor, 84-year-old Harbansh Mother, headed to the beach with bags and gloves and decided to start picking up trash. At that time, there was so much filth stretched over so much coastline, the two friends thought there was little chance they’d make any kind of difference in how the beach looked. After all, how could they even begin to clear away the layers and layers of trash that were, in some areas, five feet deep? But they didn’t let that stop them; they knew they had to do something. And they decided that, on every Sunday, they’d head to the beach to do what they could to collect, bag and dispose of as much trash as they could carry.
As their work progressed, people would stop and ask them what they were doing. And soon, others had joined in. Shah and Mother realized they were doing something important — not just to them, but to others, as well. Shah began talking to his neighbors, his friends, local business people — pretty much anyone who would listen. He explained the problem of ocean pollution, and he also talked about how it was up to them — the people who lived and worked in the area — to make a difference. He reminded them of the beautiful beach, how for years, people gathered to swim, have picnics, and just hang out.
All this time, he still went to the beach every weekend to pick up more and more trash, filling hundreds of bags with waste. Soon, his dedication and enthusiasm attracted others. And before long, the two friends found they had company — at first, just a few volunteers, and then dozens, visiting the beach every Sunday with gloves and bags, ready to dig in — literally — to the seemingly endless piles of trash.
Now, four years later, the little project started by two old friends has had remarkable results. The beach is clean — and just last year, dozens of rare sea turtles returned to the beach after decades of absence, laying their eggs and reclaiming a beach they abandoned when the trash started showing up many years ago. Since the clean-up began, more than 12,000 tons of trash have been bagged up and removed.
Change Starts with You
As the world’s largest beach clean-up, Versova is a good lesson for everyone. It shows how just one or two people can make a big difference, not just to other people, but to the global environment, too. With the internet, you don’t need to visit the beach to save marine wildlife. The Ocean Conservancy offers lots of tips for keeping the seas clean. One you can do right now: Give up plastic drinking straws. It might sound surprising, but straws are one of the biggest pollutants in the world’s oceans and each year, they kill hundreds of fish, birds, and mammals. The Ocean Conservancy has started its own drive to get people to stop using straws and help preserve marine wildlife. If that sounds like something you’d like to do, visit the conservancy’s website and sign their pledge (but ask your parents first). It’s one small way you and your friends can make a really big difference.
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