For the first time in decades hatchlings from a vulnerable turtle species have been found on a Mumbai beach following huge efforts by volunteers to conduct a two year cleanup on the coastline.

According to The Guardian, at the end of March, ’At least 80 Olive Ridley turtles made their way into the Arabian Sea from nests on the southern end of Versova beach, protected from wild dogs and birds of prey by volunteers who slept overnight in the sand to watch over them.’

The United Nations has claimed Versova is the ‘world’s largest beach cleanup project,’ as what was once a dumping ground of litter and plastics is now a virtually unspoilt area of coastline.

Afroz Shah, a lawyer and the leader behind the beach cleanup, told The Guardian that ‘he started anticipating the turtle hatchings two months ago when farmers on the southern end of the two-mile (3km) beach reported seeing turtles in the sand.’

“The moment we got that news I knew something big was going to happen,” he told The Guardian.

Volunteers then called him and said they’d seen dozens of any Olive Ridley turtles appearing from their nests.

Shah telephoned the forest department, headed down to the beach with 25 others and protected the area while the baby turtles moved across the sand ensuring that ‘not one hatchling suffered a death,’ he told the publication.

The Olive Ridley species, though the smallest and most abundant sea turtle, is categorised as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Despite nesting in other locations in Mumbai, none of the species had been seen on Versova beach in decades because of pollution problems.

“I had tears in my eyes when I saw them walking towards the ocean,” Shah added.

“Beach cleanups definitely have a positive effect on nesting turtles. Many beaches which are major nesting sites are cleaned prior and during the nesting season by villagers, which increases the chances of getting nests [there],” he said.

Shah has been guiding volunteers in manual rubbish collection from Versova beach for more than two years in addition to teaching ‘sustainable waste practices to villagers and people living in slums along the coastline and the creeks leading into it.’

With around 55,000 people living by the beach and waterways, Shah has been teaching by example, volunteering to clean communal toilets and collect rubbish before seeking their help.

He told the outlet: “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.”

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