On one fine day in 2017, Lisbon Ferrao with his wife Zsuzsanna Salda, daughter Nascha and son Lucius planned a day out at the beach. While the kids were happy and excited to build their castles, the entire day turned out to be totally different.
Lisbon found his children playing with plastic bottles scattered around. This left him in shock and at that moment he, along with his wife, decided to clear off a few plastic bottles and bags every time they would visit the beach.
Lisbon, his wife, and his kids joined hands and began picking up the rubbish from the beach. They started sharing ‘after and before scenes’ pictures on Facebook, which went viral, leading to many volunteers turning up to clean the beaches.
In our conversation with Lisbon Ferrao, he shared insights about his movement, the impact it has made so far and his future plans.
1. Can you tell us more about the moment that inspired you to start cleaning the beaches in Mumbai?
When my children were born, that was the greatest moment of my life, and my achievements or failures meant nothing because I was content. However, it was a trip to the beach with them that triggered a realisation. Seeing them play with sand and plastic bottles, it struck me that no child should have to grow up in a world cluttered with plastic waste. They say ‘drop by drop makes the ocean’ and we cleaned an ocean of plastic.
We have recently established a partnership with a New Zealand-based NGO that operates under the name Eyesea.org. This NGO, Eyesea, is a non-profit organisation which is dedicated to mapping worldwide pollution and maritime hazards.
2. How did you manage to turn your initiative into a large-scale movement like the ‘Vasai Beach Cleaners’?
The media certainly played a significant role in giving wings to our initiative but I’d say that consistency and passion were the driving forces behind it. The more we kept at it, the bigger it grew, and the more people wanted to join in.
3. What is the most memorable or unusual item you’ve ever found while cleaning the beaches in Mumbai?
There are many unusual items that we have found during the cleans up, some recent ones are a human skull, a shark egg, a crystal, 50,000 rs, dead dolphins, jellyfish, snakes, and plastics from other countries.
4. Could you share some insights into the environmental impact of your beach cleaning efforts? How much plastic and waste have you removed so far?
Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to have the support of around 15,000 volunteers who have collectively helped us clean 750 tons of waste. I believe cleaning is a continuous process that can’t be precisely measured because as you clean today, it can get dirty again tomorrow or after a few weeks. Just as we bathe daily to stay clean, we must consistently tend to our environment. We need to treat the environment as we do our bodies; it requires attention, especially because we humans have been exploiting it for centuries with minimal reciprocity from us.
Many colleges, schools, institutions, and corporations have also invited us to give lectures and presentations on the environment. Many schools join us every year for their outdoor environmental programs, and, as of a year ago, we’ve started recycling. We’ve also planted around 5,000 tree saplings on the coast. It’s been a chain reaction. One action is leading to multiple initiatives that are collectively driving positive change in our community.
5. What do you believe is the long-term impact of your work on the environment, local ecosystems, and wildlife in Mumbai?
To be honest, I haven’t thought that far. When we started, I didn’t even know if we would do it the next week, and when we did it the following week, we didn’t know if we would continue after that. It’s been 300 weeks, and I wonder how far I can go.
The truth is, I do this work not because I believe it alone can completely change the world. I don’t want to grow old and feel I did nothing to prevent it. I want to be able to say, “I tried.”
I would say our actions, my wife’s, and ‘Vasai Beach Cleaners’ contribution have motivated many others to clean, recycle, and mirror our work, which I think is excellent. The more people, groups, and institutions start these initiatives, the less work for me. We’ve long taken from the environment, and now, it’s high time we give back and work together for a more sustainable future.
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