Write up on Chennai Coastal Cleanup/4, June 16th

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Chennai Coastal Cleanup 4 on 16th June

Chennai Coastal Cleanup is an initiative to clean the beaches of Chennai .

Hey! Why should we put off all our daily chores and go cleaning a public place?

Are we vetti? Aren't there, the workers of the civic dept to do this job? Am I making these beaches dirty, then why should I go and do this cleaning job?

I hear many of you having this question propping up in your mind once a call for a volunteer cleanup activity comes up...

Lets see what the scenario really is...

All most all our beaches are filled with filth, garbage and all kinds of litter, giving us a nausea whenever we go for a stroll on the dunes.

How these things get there?

Yes, If there is an awesome beach, many people tend to visit it. These folks while enjoying the serenity of the beach, have food and snacks, eat it to the whole. But, after they are finished of filling their tummy, the packs that had their snacks; the water bottles that had just been emptied by them; and the ice cream cups and spoons that had just been licked off by them; turn out to be useless by then. They just dump them in the beach and return to their home. Most of these crowd are lazy folks who do not care about the future.

This bad habit has got to be the usual standard practice for many of our beach goers.

The result is that, as hundreds, thousand of people visit our beautiful beaches, the filth left over by them during each of their visits, gets to stay put on the sand dunes of our beaches.

Finally, more of the beaches, which were once so beautiful, is now unpleasant on our eyes, as well giving out nauseating smell inducing a vomiting sensation.  All kinds of garbage; be it  ice cream spoons, water bottles, slippers, liquor bottles, plastic bags, used fishing nets, etc., fill the dunes of our beaches.  If this practice of dumping waste goes on and on., we would never have the opportunity to enjoy the awesomeness of a beach. In due course, the eco system associated with the coastal environment get degraded and if left as it is; its bound to result in a irreparable damage to our community.

Everyone should stop throwing garbage in our beaches.

We should remove the filth that has filled our beaches as well.

Yes, Coastal Cleanup need to be done. The ecology needs to be safeguarded from further deterioration.

During the year 2010, in the month of May, volunteers numbering 880 from the Chennai Trekking Club swung into action and collected 8.9 Tonnes of garbage over the stretch of 15 km of the Chennai coast from Marina till Injambakkam.

This was done by the volunteers who want our own environment to be conserved, so that our future generation would get benefitted.

But, on the other hand, the filth thrown away by the beach goers never stopped.

After an year, the second edition of Coastal Cleanup followed in Jan 2011 in which 1,000 volunteers collected 9+ Tonnes of garbage over the same stretch.

Though the cleanup was being done by the good willed volunteers, who are few in number, on an yearly basis; the daily visitors of the beach, outnumber these volunteers, and do not bother to litter the beach, on a daily basis.

What followed next is a coastal cleanup in February 2012. Though many records have been made by many countries across the globe in achieving something new. Here in our Chennai, we have done a record of the Fastest Cleanup in just two hours. This cleanup got into the Limca Book of Records for being the fastest cleanup by 2,369 volunteers, collecting 17.6 Tonnes of garbage in just 2 hours.

The pity is that, lacs of mindless people who come to enjoy in the beach, just  throw their leftovers while going back home and thousands of volunteers concerned with saving the environment leave their pretty home, come to the beach and clean the garbage, to make the beach look beautiful once again.

Alas the awkward cycle goes on and on. The hard work by the really concerned people have not gone down. The awareness have really spread far and wide.

Fourth time in action, the Chennai Coastal Cleanup/4 got to see a whopping 5,584 people from Corporates, NGOs, Colleges, Schools etc., swinging into action once again to clean the coasts of Chennai.  This time the stretch is little longer at nearly 23 kms starting from Marina and ending at Kovalam.

The innovative factor, in the beach cleanup activity, gained through the experience over the past three years have gone a step higher. From just collecting the waste during the past cleanups, this time the wastes were segregated. That is, different kind of wastes (non-bio degradable / degradable) would be picked up separately and processed accordingly, be it sending to dump yard or to the recycling facility.

From just 880 (2008) volunteers to 5,584(2013). From just the people of Chennai Trekking Club to the people coming in from Corporates, NGO, Schools, Colleges, et all., joining in to clean the beaches, its really a big thingy in the happening.

Though all these ideas have got better; though the group have got stronger; though the records got trumpet on its own, the number of people dumping garbage and filth on the serene dunes of our coast have neither come down nor there any punitive action taken by the agencies that be.

What a pity?

On Sunday, the 16th June of 2013 saw the Chennai Coastal Cleanup 4 making a buzz...

Lets see on what I have done during this activity....

I was part of the cleanup drive "Chennai Coastal Cleanup/4 " as one of the photographers. This years’ cleanup drive, had 16 identified places on the 20+ kms stretch of Chennai Coast. As the call for photo volunteers came in the group email, I registered and was awaiting to hear back. A few days then, I got a reply email informing me of being allocated to the Kovalam Beach area. This is the south most end of the Chennai coast and its the nearest place for me as I go from my town Cuddalore. I was one of the 5 photographers covering the event at the Kovalam beach. In total there were 80 photographers covering the whole stretch.

My itinerary :
The cleanup starts by 6.00 a.m. and my nearly 200kms bus travel from Cuddalore would take roughly 4 hours. So, I took an hour extra to my journey time and wanted to leave Cuddalore by 2.00 a.m. But, bit enthusiastic I put my alarm a little early.

Got up at 12.30 a.m., left home by 1.15 a.m. Usually I walk the 15 minutes distance to the bus stand. I had sufficient time not to fret. So, walked at a 'not at all busy' mode on the road to the Cuddalore bus stand. A couple of minutes into the walk, there was a lonely bike coming from behind. So, just put my try asking for a lift. The guy promptly stopped and took me in. That was a time saver. I reached the bus stand in 5 minutes.

Walked into the bus stand thinking of that I may need to wait for more than half hour to get a bus to Chennai. But, a bus was coming out of the bus stand when I was walking in. I asked the crew, if they would drop me at Kovalam bus stop. Then a nod and I jumped in and took a seat.

What I thought of a 45 minute exercise, all got over in just 10 minutes flat.
I thought of the journey time to be over 3 hours. But the govt operated Ultra Deluxe bus was so quick, they just  dropped me at the Kovalam bus stop at 4.00 a.m.

Oh God!!

I am here 2 hours earlier!

Being here at an odd time; only four or five folks loitering around this road junction; the road being dark at farthest ends; a few MTC buses parked on the road leading to Kovalam; It was a puzzling moment for me on what I wanna be doing for the next two hours.

As I was standing on the West side of the road, I could see three people standing on the other side of the road leading to Kovalam. There was a diesel auto parked in one corner behind the high mast lamp. Its driver sleeping inside the vehicle giving out snores that could be heard while I cross past the ECR road to its East side.  The only other thing I hear is, two biker folks talking and another lone man standing near them.
Got to click this, once I crossed the ECR to its East side. I should go right to reach Kovalam.

After I crossed past the road, I went near the boys with the bike and did strike conversation to know if they are connected with the CTC or the Cleanup initiative. They were clueless, but were interested to continue conversing with me.

I opened up the story that’s gonna happen in a couple of hours to restore back the beauty of the Chennai coast. Their eye brows raised a little. Now I wanted to know, what for they are waiting there? Out came their reply, that, their bike had gone dry of its fuel and one of their fellow biker have gone nearby to get a bottle of fuel.

These guys were very much interested to know about the coastal cleanup initiative and the trekking that happen regularly in the Chennai Trekking Club (CTC). While I opened up the stories of the treks that happen in CTC, they told that they are going on a trek to Thekkady and some forest nearby.

Till that moment, the other lone man standing nearby was idle and seemed to be awaiting for some vehicle to go home. Once we started our talk about ‘forest’ , ‘treks’, ‘nature’, etc., the lone man who was so far simply standing, came nearer to us and opened up spilling tid bits of his experience in going into forests while he had been at Brazil. He had been working in a oil rig there and he came up sharing his experience in going into vast forests there.

I never expected such awesome stories being opened on chats at the sides of a road junction at the brink of such an early morning. All of us were just moving in on different agenda, but came shoulder to shoulder in the mid of a lone junction just because of sharing stories about NATURE. Realized that nature is really a big entity and it has connected all of us here in its story.

Few minutes after that, their fellow bikers came with a bottle of petrol and the bike was topped up with the fuel to get fired. Out of the four people, three were of mindset to leave from there, but one of the four guys was very much interested into the conversation and pitches questions to the Brazil returned man on about the prospects there. All this happening at around 4.30 a.m.

By, 4.45 a.m. the bikers left us bidding adieu. They told of heading to the Kovalam beach. I might have joined them and gone with them to the beach. But, since it was too dark and they being not that known to me, I kept my urge within me and awaited at the junction. Now, I started conversing with the Brazil returned man. Came to know of the facilities he has got and the banking transactions “NRE account” blah, blah, blah. Realized that, decade ago,  there had been too much restrictions for people working abroad, but now many facilities have come up for people going abroad. No hiccups in transferring their hard earned money back to their home!

After 10 minutes, the share auto driver came out of his deep sleep and this Brazil turned to the the driver to take him to Kelambakkam. He too left by 4.55 a.m.

Now, I am the lonely person; awaiting for the sun to come over the horizon and light up the sky; the clock to move faster and strike SIX. 

Now I ought to call my brother. He is also taking part in the Chennai Coastal Cleanup / 4 as a volunteer at Besant Nagar area. Confirmed with him that he is on time and heading on Chennai Local Train to catch up with his colleagues to get into their office shuttle bus scheduled at 5.20 a.m. at Guindy. His organization CTS is a corporate sponsor of CCC4.

Then got to buzz with my fellow photographers -  Abishek and Dinesh. Abishek called back to tell that he will be there past SIX.

Far away in the Eastern horizon, the sky is little by little changing in its colour. The black sky wore a hue of grey. Now, a person comes near the junction; approach the high mast lamp; turns off the lights and left. By this time all the MTC buses have left one by one.

Few bikers coming from Chennai turn to left to my side and then head on to Kovalam area. I just kept an eye on each of them out of curiosity, to know if they too are heading for the cleanup activity. But, it was bit hard to clue out and make a contact with a person moving by in a bike / car. With the place being new to me and  am clueless of the logistics, I kept to sitting on the traffic police outpost shamina lying nearby. When the clock was crossing past 5.30, the surrounding had lit up to the mild rays of the sun at dawn.

Being immobile at a same place and sitting there too long, pushed me to little slumber. I needed to pull off from that mode, walk a little, stand for a while and then go and sit there.

After some time a biker on a CBZ bike turns to this side of the road and stops to look at me. I too make an eye contact with him. Both of us were little clueless and he decides to take out his mobile and make a call (of course to me!!). I was for sure, that that biker to be none other than Abishek or Dinesh. I went near to him and told that I am Srini. Wow, its Dinesh.

He took me pillion and we headed to the beach.

The first sight of the beach was so awesome. A road leads to the beach; as the road ends, there is a sand dune. To the left, is the bay where the sea tides go fall on little walls. The roads giving a warm welcome of its sight.

As Dinesh parked his bike, I could see Sabha Sir answering his ever ringing mobile phone. He was taking care of this Kovalam beach in coordinating the day’s work. As is synonymous of any coordinator, Sabha Sir gets calls on his phone from frantic people who are clueless on how to reach this spot. Sun was just above the horizon; but behind the clouds. Few minutes,,, the clouds were just moving off and the Sun came out with a golden hue. 

The lighting from the rising sun was so good and I rushed to catch this awesome shot. There were some fishermen going in to start their day's work.

The serenity of this place was really charismatic with the beach having a wonderful bay which goes in a semi circle and would total a length of a kilometer. 

Few of the fishermen were busy in starting off their work of getting their boats into the sea for fishing.

Then I moved around the dunes of this beach. The half a circled bay on the North of me was really so awesome, but the vast amount of debris and filth lying to my West defeated the gorgeous beach of its charm.

Then I went up around to see the gravity of the filth lying around this beach.

Adding eyesore to the serene beach was a pool of water which seem to be back waters on the verge of drying up. This half an acre pool had the eye sore in the kind of slippers, used fishing nets, papers, diapers, bottles, plastic bags and many more things floating in it. The ever permeating bad smell gets me a vomiting sensation when I stand there.

Adding to the eye sore is the little goats eating up the plastic covers. This surely is a disaster happening silently, which our community on a whole would realize, only when a big loss has swept past us.

As the milch cow feeds on the poisonous litter, the little calf feeds on its mother's milk.
There were very few people who have arrived for this cleanup. Much more people were being expected.

After some 10 minutes, more people started arrived. 

Punitha struck a conversation with an elderly fisherman. From him we came to know that, they are nowadays using 'use & throw' type of fishing nets. In olden days, they had been using much stronger nets which could be repaired when they got damaged. Those nets had longer life. But now, with the availability of cheaper 'use & throw' type of fishing nets, once the net has got damaged, they just throw them off. People are not interested in investing time to repair their nets. Also, the nets are cheaper.

I recall myself of using fountain pen in my school days. A fountain pen can be refilled. Some times I had repaired it and some time I have replaced the metal nib. Rarely I would have gone for replacing the pen itself. Since coming to college, I have never used a fountain pen. Plastic ball point pen got in for my writing purpose. Most of the times, when the ball point pen have gone dry, I had thought of changing the pen, rather than changing its plastic refill. I had many times threw off the used up old ball point plastic pen to dust bin and switched to a new pen. 1996 was the year I had stepped into college. If I assume of using one plastic ball point pen every three months, I should have consumed 51 of them. So, I should have dumped off around 50 plastic pens. What if I switch back to fountain pen? Should I be saving the environment by minimizing my part of adding plastic to our environment? But, practically, as part of my work life, I would never be able to use a fountain pen. Fountain pen would not be suitable for me in certain scenario. Will there be similar situation to the fisher folks? Would they be able to turn back to the old type of mend-able fishing nets?

Switching over of certain styles in our life have actually been a part of the reason of more litter into the environment around us!

Coming back to the day's cleanup activity...
The crowd of volunteers have then become stronger by this time. Many parents have brought their children. I know how much would be the effort for the parents to pull their kids off their beds on an early morning, that too on a Sunday.

But, with these kids having taken part in such a social activity, have got the feel of being responsible to our community. These kids would be more aware in their life and they will surely not throw their litter into the open. They would be an example for others to follow. This improvement in them could never be inculcated by any other means, rather than bringing them for such a cleanup activity.

After a few minutes, the accessories like caps, latex hand gloves, bags for collecting the wastes were distributed to the volunteers.

A part of the volunteers from Sathyabama University. With a distinct dress code for themselves, they did a stunning job. These guys never felt bad to dirt their hands in such bad stagnated sea water.
Then I went near this water pool to click the cleanup activity. The bad nauseating smell was so much irritating and it was hard time to just stand there and click the photographs. But, I really feel great of the people who took the pain of withstanding that bad smell; pick out the thrash from the nauseating pool of water and in the end made the pool look better.

As the sun was coming up, the heat could be felt considerably. As the illumination got stronger, it was a chance for this photographer to try some good silhouettes...

And those silhouettes turned to be awesome.
The Kovalam Panjayath head Mr.Janakiraman provided water, soft drinks, banana to all the volunteers. It was a great refreshment and drove off the tiredness.
Refreshments came in the way of plastic mineral water pockets, refreshing soft drinks came in plastic PET bottles which we drank in in disposable drinking water cups, the milkshakes came in plastic containers which we sipped and drank using plastic straws. Thus, our way of life has got a lot of plastic. I don't think, with so much of plastic involved in our life, we would rather be able to fight off plastic and garbage. A definite plan to recycle / reuse / disposal mechanism is needed to make things come into control. Else, our environment would be full of plastics flying around. Statistics is that, 95% of plastic waste is actually  dumped without any reprocessing. 
It was quite a stunning moment to realize that Japanese High Commission had come to the cleanup with her family and friends. Hats of to you MAM!

I was one of the folks to come here when the Sun was just coming out of the horizon. Then the beach was so much filled with filth almost everywhere. Couple of hours later, hard work put in by the people changed the whole scenario. As you see in the above picture, the dunes of the beach as well the pool looked a lot better than it was before.
313 bags of garbage were removed from this Kovalam beach by the untiring efforts put in by 430 volunteers from CSS Corp, Sathyabama, SSN NSS, UST Global and Chennai Trekking Club.

We the photographers were not able to catch up with the key people of the organising team for a click as they were always tied up in making things going for the activity to go without stumbling. Finally after a part of the volunteer crowd left, we could get them for a group photograph.

Above chart shows the statistics of the Chennai Coastal Cleanup 4 on the whole 20+ kms stretch. A whopping 36.7 Tons of garbage was removed by 5,584 untiring volunteers within a period of three hours.

If the daily users of this beach, realize the awesomeness of a cleaner beach; stop dumping the thrash into this serene beach; the awesomeness can be enjoyed by all and volunteer people need not waste their time to right the wrongs made by irresponsible people.

If the government swings into action of levying heavy fines on the persons who are dumping waste here, almost half the work is done.

If more dust bins are placed all around, the people will find it easier to leave the litter in the bins.

If the shops selling eatables and the like in plastic plates and carry bags are taken to the task, once they stop passing off the plastic products, many an improvement could be realized.

BUT apart from the people doing the cleanup, the local folks - fishermen seem do not bother about the filth in the beach. If and only if the daily users of this beach get to know of the importance of keeping it clean, seeing a better and cleaner beach will be a long way to go. In addition to this cleanup drive, the daily users of the beach need to be inculcated of their responsibility not to throw filth in the beach. Anyhow I got a satisfaction of having done some good to the community this day.

I have some questions in my mind after having had a day through this cleanup activity…
Couple of decades ago, we bought our provisions in cloth bags, the shop keepers too sold it by packing them in old newspaper and tying them with twine. Milk men brought us milk in bottles / big containers, measured them and supplied us the milk.

BUT now, each and everything is sold in plastic packages. If we have the guts to switch over back to our old school of thoughts, if manufacturers stop packing their products in plastics, 95% of the job is done!!

Will they?
Will you?
If not
Lets see.... 
Lets meet in the next cleanup in 2014 !!

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