Plastic and trash used to pile five feet high in some spots on Versova Beach in Mumbai, India, but in 2015, local lawyer Afroz Shah launched what the United Nations described as the “world’s largest beach cleanup project” — and people recently spotted Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings there. The Independent and The Guardian said it’s the first time turtle hatchlings have been glimpsed on the beach in years.

Around 80 to 90 turtle hatchlings recently crawled towards the sea at Versova, guarded by volunteers who The Guardian said slept in the sand to protect the baby turtles from birds of prey or dogs. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature classifies Olive Ridley turtles as vulnerable, and they may not have been born at this Mumbai beach for almost two decades.

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Scientist Sumedha Korgaonkar, who’s finishing a PhD on Olive Ridley turtles, told The Guardian it is possible small amounts of the animals nested on the beach in the past; she can’t be sure because “regular patrolling for turtle nests is not done in Mumbai.” However, she added, “Beach cleanups definitely have a positive effect on nesting turtles.”

Shah has been leading volunteers to clean up the 5,000 tons of trash at Versova for more than two years. Around 55,000 people reside near the beach, and Shah started by offering to clean up communal toilets and picking up waste on his own. He told The Guardian, “For the first six to eight weeks, nobody joined. Then two men approached me and said, very politely, ‘Please sir, can we wear your gloves?’ Both of them just came and joined me. That’s when I knew it was going to be a success.”

Shah’s effort flourished into a national movement; everyone from slum dwellers to politicians to school children to celebrities has joined in. UN Environment head Erik Solheim said in a 2017 press release, “What Afroz Shah has achieved on Versova beach is nothing short of remarkable. These 100 weeks of hard work and determination by Afroz and countless volunteers goes way beyond dealing with a local crisis. This has inspired what is becoming a nationwide and global movement to turn the tide on plastic and waste.”

Via The Independent, The Guardian, and UN Environment

Image via Wikimedia Commons