Marine Life Of Mumbai
Anirudh Nair writes about Marine Life of Mumbai (MLOM), a citizen’s collective that is redefining taking a simple walk by the sea. Their guided shore and beach walks, are creating a new crop of conservationists willing to protect Mumbai’s stunning, but much-abused seascape.
Photo: Abhishek Jamalabad
Around this time, last year, I was introduced to a mind-boggling diversity of shore organisms, courtesy, Marine Life of Mumbai (MLOM), a collective that aims to introduce the city’s land-dwelling inhabitants to the marine inhabitants on the magnificent shores and beach that define Mumbai.
To the accompaniment of collective ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’, marine biologist Abhishek Jamalabad and water sports instructor Pradip Patade, two of the three founders of MLOM, pointed out sea sponges, snails, crabs and corals thriving in the intertidal zone near the famed Haji Ali Dargah in south Mumbai. Hundreds of pilgrims made their way to the Dargah oblivious to the sheer magnificent lifeforms that so absorbed our small group of nature enthusiasts.
On yet another walk along Girgaum Chowpatty, where the Arabian sea faces the ignominy of swallowing up the city’s zenith of idolatry each year, more natural treasures lay in store. Sea anemones catching drifting food in the water, spiral melongenas laying eggs, hermit crabs exchanging shells. The beach was living and how! By-catch discarded by fishermen – a butterfly ray and a bamboo shark – were still gasping for breath in shallow, sandy pools. And when Pradip upturned a discarded tire, out emerged, you better believe it, an octopus, which had found itself a temporary home as the tide receded.
Pradip tells me the story of how he met co-founders Abhishek and academic researcher Siddharth Chakravarty to form MLOM in February 2017: “Before this collective was founded, nature walks in the city mostly catered to those who were interested in birds, butterflies and herps. I had been scouring Mumbai’s beaches and coastlines since 2013 and knew of the hidden world waiting to be discovered. One of the reasons why participants started turning up for walks in large numbers was the ease with which they were able to observe stunningly diverse marine organisms right here in the city. The walks became increasingly popular by word of mouth, social media and the interest this generated in the print media.”
While conducting shore and beach walks to raise awareness about our marine heritage remains the crux of MLOM’s work, they are also exploring other avenues to spread the message including monthly talks by experts and the publication of shore guides, downloadable from their website. They collaborate with organisations including WWF-India and the Sanctuary Nature Foundation and look forward to working with still more like-minded individuals and organisations.
Driven by a team of committed volunteers, their citizen-science initiative has well and truly taken wing.
A pleased Abhishek tells me about how iNaturalist, a portal they use to record their observations, reached out to them when they noticed the upsurge in observations from the beaches and seas around Mumbai. MLOM encourages its participants to submit their observations on the portal and are now planning a structured, largescale citizen-science project to map the intertidal biodiversity of Mumbai. Disarmingly, Abhishek says to me: “Initially, we never expected to see organisms such as corals and sponges, that we are able to see on our walks today and I too was pretty blown away like you were.”
“The immediate reaction of people when they talk about Mumbai’s beaches is that they are so filthy… so unclean. We hope to remedy this situation by recruiting more volunteers and citizens and thus win more support for our mission,” adds Pradip.
Photo: Gaurav Patil
As MLOM gears up for a fresh season of shore and beach walks, I for one am excited about sighting more squirting molluscs, crabby crabs and hopefully, a moray eel!
Author: Anirudh Nair, First published in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVIII No. 10, October 2018.