A mangrove clean-up drive started by three activists on August 15, 2020 has turned into a mission. Now in its 111th week, 150 active members and 20,000 volunteers are lending a hand in saving the marine ecosystem. Called Environment Life Foundation (ELF), the group has so far removed over 125 tonnes of waste ranging from plastic bottles, syringes and medicines to household trash.
Though the ELF’s efforts have environmentalists from across Maharashtra and other states, Dharmesh Barai, its 36-year-old founder says that cleaning one or two mangrove sites will not make the ecosystem safe. He said the exercise is futile unless the focus is on preventing waste from being dumped into the sea.
Barai spoke to the Free Press Journal about his journey, the role of government agencies, and ELF’s future roadmap.
How did the foundation take its first step?
I shifted to Nerul from Kamothe just before the lockdown was imposed in March 2020, and was looking for a place where I could connect with nature. A neighbour suggested Karave Jetty along Palm Beach road in Nerul, but I was shocked to see trash covering the mangroves nearly two feet higher than the mangroves, not allowing them to breathe. I discussed it with two friends who after a brief thought decided to give some time to clean the area. The journey officially started on August 15, 2020.
How difficult was it with little or no resources?
We were clueless about how and where to start. We didn’t have gloves, bags or any other materials to collect the trash.
How did the NMMC support you?
We kept posting photographs of waste collection on social media platforms. After three weeks, we received a call from the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC). As the NMMC has been working to secure the first rank in the cleanliness survey, Dr Babasaheb Rajale, (deputy municipal commissioner, solid waste management) contacted me and extended support. We were the first group with the civic body’s support. They sent teams to lift garbage and also provided gloves and other materials.
How has the mission helped the participants?
Many youngsters have realised the importance of saving the environment and also sensed a career opportunity here. We have a very clear stand that cleaning is not charity, it’s a responsibility. Youngsters participating in it have stopped buying water bottles and have convinced their families and friends to stop dumping trash outside.
Is the weekly clean-up drive enough to save the ecosystem?
Honestly, spending crores of rupees on cleaning is a futile exercise. This is not going to solve the problem. Many people are just posting photos and videos on social media platforms. Even this won’t solve the problem. The question is not how much waste has been removed, it is how much waste is prevented from being dumped here.
What can be done?
The NMMC has installed nets in sewage outlets. This has stopped at least 50 per cent of waste from going into the sea. Other local bodies can replicate this.
How do weekly drives help?
Such drives create awareness among citizens and shake up the agencies concerned. People associated with such drives see the actual problem. It was only after my lockdown visit that I realised it myself. Had I not visited, the 111th week of mangrove cleaning would not have happened.