Saturday, May 20, 2017

Mumbai: Marine enthusiasts to start awareness of sea creatures

Blue Button
Blue Button Pics Courtesy/Abhishek Jamalabad, Pradip Patade

If someone said you could spot pink sea anemones, vibrant corals and sponges, and colourful little sea slugs along the coast of Mumbai, you'd probably laugh, call them delusional and walk away. However, you're the one who would end up looking foolish.

Turns out our shores are, in fact, home to these and more marine species, and a month-old initiative, Marine Life Of Mumbai (MLOM), hopes to draw attention to the unusual creatures that reside on the beaches we avoid stepping on.

Sea anemone
Sea anemone

The turning tide
"It's not that people don't know about the marine life that exists here. Mumbai, after all, has a large community of fisherfolk. But, at the same time, we don't like going into the sea because it's dirty," says MLOM co-founder Siddharth Chakravarty, an academic researcher who is currently studying labour supply chains on industrial fishing vessels.

The other two co-founders are also marine enthusiasts. Abhishek Jamalabad is a marine biologist, while Pradip Patade, a self-taught marine expert, has been exploring and conducting walks along the city's intertidal zones for over two decades.

Green zoanthids
Green zoanthids

Coast along
One look at MLOM's Facebook and Instagram feeds is enough to make you question your knowledge of the city's marine life. Creatures in all shapes and sizes, painted in emerald greens and aquamarine blues, peek out at you.

The group has also conducted a walk along Girgaum Chowpatty. "We got there just in time for low tide, and suddenly, everything under our feet came to life and started crawling. That's when people realised that all hope is not lost; that there is still life under Mumbai's polluted waters," says Chakravarty.

A sponge garden off Marine Drive. Pic Courtesy/Sarang Naik
A sponge garden off Marine Drive. Pic Courtesy/Sarang Naik

Before conducting this walk, the trio had undertaken a few exploratory walks of their own to document as many creatures as they could. "We found that each shore has different species residing on it. Moreover, we were amazed by how unique some of them were. At Marine Drive, we found sea anemones, which most people associate with pristine dive sites overseas. The same goes for the corals we've seen," says Jamalabad.

The community's aim, Chakravarty says, is to serve as an open and public repository of information regarding the coastal biodiversity of Mumbai. "We also hope to initiate public dialogue. With the coastal road project and the Chhatrapati Shivaji statue in the Arabian Sea being given the green light, these creatures are in danger. We want people to become better participants in the community and dwell on the fallout. Right now, these projects are getting clearance because there is little citizen involvement."

Sea change
He hopes that with these walks, they can encourage attendees to take pictures and add to the collection that already exists on the community's social media pages. MLOM has plans to conduct a walk every month, with the next one planned for May 27. "We haven't finalised the location for it yet, but it is likely to happen at Haji Ali," says Jamalabad. He explains that the trio wants to, at some point, take a step back and allow the members of MLOM to helm the community.

He adds, "It's not our page. We want it to become a community-driven initiative by getting more people to claim ownership of it."

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