Spot killer snails and blue crabs on Mumbai’s shores
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Is that a brittle star?!” a keen-eyed environmental studies student enquires, crouching for a closer look of the slim, tentacled figure. Her exclamation draws the dozen DSLR-armed men and women who have descended on the jagged shores behind Mumbai’s Haji Ali Dargah to spot the city’s mysterious, neglected residents—its marine life. As the cameras position themselves for the perfect slant of light, another participant throws in a bit of trivia: “Some species of brittle stars are smaller than the food they eat. So their stomachs actually leave their bodies for them to digest the food outside.”
On these walks, organized by the Marine Life of Mumbai (MLOM), expect to find sea anemones and algae that betray evidence of the city’s uncontrolled pollution, sea slugs that have migrated to shallow waters, and unassuming but lethal Conus shells that might shoot venom into your bloodstream on contact (“touch nothing, you won’t even survive the trip to the hospital,” warns one of the volunteers). With committed marine-life enthusiasts for company, you can listen to debates over scientific names, interrupted by delighted squeals at rare sightings (a once-colourful gorgonian fan is gushed over) and comparisons of the health of the city’s biodiverse shores.
This citizen-driven initiative has been co-founded by marine biologist and researcher Abhishek Jamalabad, who used to work with WWF India; “sea captain” and marine conservationist Siddharth Chakravarty; and water sports instructor Pradip Patade, who has spent over 20 years exploring Mumbai’s shores, and leads this particular walk. After years of embarking on solitary sea excursions, and aligning with the city’s fisherfolk for updates on tides and unfamiliar catches, he finally decided to start documenting his findings.
“During Ganesh visarjan that year (2013), around 100 people were stung by jellyfish, stingray and eels. That’s when I dedicatedly started taking pictures of marine life in the city, since it is such an ignored, undocumented subject. Bombay beaches are only famous for their litter; no one really explores the shores,” says Patade.
The trio organizes regular coastal walks where participants photograph and share their sightings on the MLOM Facebook page; this data also aids in research studies. The monthly walks are spread over three shores—Carter Road, Haji Ali and Girgaon Chowpatty—and the schedules vary according to tidal patterns. Since it was set up last year, the MLOM has seen a rise in volunteer participation, with a motley crew of biology students, academics and curious citizens navigating jagged oyster beds and sandy shores for a glimpse of reticent hermit crabs, gelatinous nudibranches and bleached sea corals. Local children abandon their games to join the party with their own discoveries, carefully bagging a translucent mantis shrimp for the group to photograph before setting it free once again.
The MLOM also undertakes private walks to study the marine diversity of ecologically sensitive shores. “At the mouth of the Arabian Sea, where the new Shivaji (Shiv Smarak) statue is coming up…that place is heaven. I often paddle there with a sea kayak, once I was surrounded by a dozen dolphins. In the last few days, we have also spotted dolphins from Nariman Point,” says Patade. “There is marine life around—once people see the beauty, they will think of conservation. Students should come out of labs and actually explore the shores.”
Marine Life of Mumbai hosts monthly shore walks in Mumbai. Registrations are open on Marinelifeofmumbai.in.