Baby Olive Ridley turtles have been spotted on a beach in Mumbai for the first time in 20 years, in a rare victory for anti-pollution measures in the city. The hatchlings were discovered by one of the volunteer anti-litter teams who patrol the sands daily removing rubbish from Versova beach in the north of the city, just a short distance up the coast from the hotel strip at Juhu Beach.
With a long string of sandy beaches tracing its western shoreline, Mumbai was once considered a promising destination for seaside holidays, but with its soaring population, overstretched infrastructure and laxly enforced environmental laws, pollution levels have driven all but the most dedicated beach-goers from the water.
Just a few hundred metres from where the turtles were found, water flowing into the Arabian Sea at the mouth of the Mithi River was found to contain 13 times the safe limit of pollution in a 2017 study. Biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) levels were measured at 250mg per litre, compared to a safe level for swimming of 20mg per litre, and a safe level for drinking of just 3mg per litre.
Turtles are not the only urban wildlife to cling on in the unlikely setting of India’s largest city. Flamingos gather in large numbers offshore from Mumbai’s Sewri Jetty from November to June, before flying north to Gujarat, and leopards regularly venture into the northern suburbs from Sanjay Gandhi National Park, which is now almost completely encircled by urban development.