Mangroves cushion the coastlines of Mumbai and act as natural buffers against coastal erosion and flooding. However, due to urbanisation and unmanaged waste, they have been fast vanishing from the city.
Mangroves Marshall, a group of 5 core members, has been working to change that. Kalpana Chhatre, Rohit Malhotra, Rasika Malhotra, Shivani Ojha and, Ganesh Shinde have been committed to the cause for the past two years and they organise weekly clean up drives around Varshi.
Kalpana, a social worker by profession and General Secretary of Mahila Morcha (Women’s Front), spoke about her motivation to be a part of this project, “My friends and I used to walk around the beach at Varshi and we noticed the dilapidated state of our mangroves. We saw people recklessly throwing garbage that ended up choking the roots of the mangroves and preventing their growth. We decided to focus on this problem and do all possible on-ground work in our capacity to solve the problem.”
The work of the organisation has been two-fold. Firstly, their clean-up activities have a direct short-term impact on the waste collection which they hand over to the Mahanagar Palika (Metropolitan Municipality), and secondly, through traditional outreach and social media, they have been promoting the reduction in the generation of waste at the source.
Kalpana believes that awareness about the mangroves is the first step in the journey. “People do not understand the importance of mangroves and how their actions are directly harming the trees. Everyone talks about frequent floods in Mumbai but nobody talks about the role mangroves can play to fight this problem. Mangroves hold the soil together, thus, reducing floods and acting as a natural defence,” she says.
Volunteers, especially students, regularly take part in the cleaning activities. “It is very important to educate the younger generation, Kalpana adds. “In our earlier drives, we used to find a lot of school bags dumped in the waste. We realized that children and their parents need to be educated about the risks of throwing bags. It was clear that this awareness must come from the children and we have seen that their close association with clean-up drives provides an understanding of this perspective to the kids.”
A prominent waste found in the mangrove forests is material used in religious ceremonies such as murtis (idols) and chaadars (blankets). This poses a regular challenge for the group and makes us realise the need for increased awareness regarding the use of sustainable, eco-friendly products for traditional ceremonies.
“Oceans only return what we give them”, says Kalpana. “For a long-term solution, people must be made aware of the direct consequences of dumping waste in the water bodies. Small changes in our lifestyles such as reusing coconuts and using eco-friendly idols, will go a long way to save our environment”.