How Mumbai saved its beach, mangroves and green spaces
Like Versova, there are at least five other spots where citizens, conservation groups and government agencies have helped restore the natural sites
How does one convert Versova beach from a black spot to a beauty spot? The answer: By removing 13 million kg of plastic and carrying out 200 clean-ups over a period of three years. What the persistent efforts yield is not just a cleaner beach, but a hatching spot for 80 turtles.
Like Versova, there are at least five other spots where citizens, conservation groups and government agencies have helped restore the natural sites. HT takes a look at these stories and how the success was achieved.
With construction sites dotting the city, Mumbai is running out of open spaces and green zones that help reduce pollution. “The urban sprawl is slowly creeping into eco-sensitive areas. Through proper planned efforts and research studies, we can bring back these locations to their original status,” said Avinash Kubal, deputy director, Maharashtra Nature Park Society in Mahim, former garbage dump which was turned into an urban forest.
While orders from the Bombay high court and National Green Tribunal helped protect the green cover and biodiversity, especially mangrove forests, construction and demolition activities continue to pose a serious threat, said eco experts. “In a crowded city, restoring such areas will help people connect with nature. Every effort should be made, to not just protect, but restore and revive such locations,” said Deepak Apte, director, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).
Mangroves and wetlands, which form nearly a fourth of suburban Mumbai’s area (132 sqkm of total 534 sqkm) and one-tenth of the area of the island city (7.6sqkm of 69 sqkm), are under threat from construction activities. “We focused on restoring these areas through plantations and ensuring tidal water flow. In many areas, citizen intervention has contributed to it. People are coming together for this cause. It is a good sign,” said N Vasudevan, additional principal chief conservator of forest, state mangrove cell, which has set aside Rs3 crore for restoration of mangrove patches across the state, including Mumbai, for 2018-19.
Experts said corporate houses, too, are doing their bit. “The mangroves along the eastern end of the city are taken care of by Godrej. Sagar Upvan, a Mumbai Port Trust garden in Colaba, which once used to be a dump, was restored through corporate social responsibility projects. We also have examples of semi-government organisations such as the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay and Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in south Mumbai that have worked towards protecting green spaces,” said Anand Pendharkar, environmentalist and founder, Sprouts Environment Trust.
WHY IT MATTERS
According to experts, citizens need to remember that natural areas are repositories of resources such as water, plant and animal life. “They are important ecosystems that support a variety of biodiversity,” said Stalin D, director, NGO Vanashakti. “It is every citizen’s duty to participate in restoration of degraded ecosystems. The mangrove cell has been proactive as far as coastal wetlands are concerned. But even there, the focus is on increasing the vegetative cover, instead of safeguarding the ecosystem. Without lakes, rivers, ponds, wells, water bodies and coastal wetlands, we can be sure that all life forms including humans will be severely impacted.”
They said Powai Lake, Charkop, lakes near Film City in Goregaon, Mahim creek, and Mahul are among a few that need to be restored. “If we are the ones who destroy it, we need to bring it back,” said Pendharkar.
Urban ecologists said lack of political conviction is a major concern. “When it comes to protection, there are mandates, but protection is only on paper. We need different approach for mangroves, wetlands, lakes or beaches. The city needs more indigenous plants,” said Dr Nitesh Joshi, urban ecologist and associate professor of botany, University of Mumbai.
The state environment department said protecting Mumbai’s green spaces was top priority. “Efforts by the forest and environment department through afforestation activities and pollution abatement measures show this government’s commitment to preserve, protect and revive the city’s green lungs. However, there is always room for further improvement through more citizen participation and awareness in the years to come,” said Satish Gavai, additional chief secretary, state environment department.