Afroz Shah, a young Indian lawyer from Mumbai, is synonymous with the world’s largest beach clean-up project.
In October 2015, Shah and his neighbor Harbansh Mathur, an 84-year-old who has since passed away, were frustrated with the piles of decomposing waste that had washed up and completely overwhelmed the city’s Versova beach. Determined to do something about it, the pair started cleaning up the beach themselves, one piece of rubbish at a time.
“I am an ocean lover 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,” said Shah.
Every weekend since, Shah has inspired volunteers to join him – from slum-dwellers to Bollywood stars, from schoolchildren to politicians. They have been turning up at Versova for what Shah calls "a date with the ocean", but what in reality means laboring shin-deep in rotting garbage under the scorching Indian sun.
So far, the volunteers have collected over 4,000 tons of trash from the 2.5 kilometre beach.
Shah, who rallied residents and fisherfolk by knocking on doors and explaining the damage marine litter causes, now plans to expand his group’s operation to prevent litter from washing down the local creek and onto the beach. He also wants to clean-up the coastline’s rubbish-choked mangrove forests, which act as a natural defense against storm surges, and to inspire similar groups across India and beyond to launch their own clean-up movements.
Shah is deservedly proud of the Versova residents' accomplishments. Not only has the movement brought marine little to the attention of decision-makers, it is also starting to win back the beach, with decreasing amounts of new litter appearing each month.
He vows to continue his beach clean-up crusade until people and their governments around the world change their approach to producing, using and discarding plastic and other products that wash up onto beaches all over the world. Earlier this year, Shah was recognized by the United Nations when named one of six 2016 Champions of the Earth by the international body.