Flamingos in wetlands, mangroves sheltering the coastline, weird scorpions in the shrubbery and intertidal spaces rich in marine life – a first-of-its-kind map of Mumbai
shows its wild side, highlighting hidden aspects of the maximum city. Who knew that threatened species such as the Indian Ocean humpback dolphins live in the waters near Haji Ali; or there are finless porpoises in the waters around Gateway of India; and olive ridley turtles near Vasai Creek? Or that Chowpatty, Carter Road and Juhu Beach aren’t just places humans frequent but are also intertidal wildlife
hotspots (complex marine ecosystems developed over millennia where land and sea meet, between the high and low tide zones)?
Part of a project designed by Purpose Climate Lab, an international agency that creates and supports movements towards a just and habitable world, the map seeks to make Mumbai's youth aware about its rich biodiversity through a campaign called Biodiversity By The Bay. To this end, they have partnered with Civis, a young tech company, and Waatavaran, a climate non-profit, to build a youth platform, Ministry of Mumbai’s Magic. "Usually when one thinks of Mumbai, the image of a concrete jungle comes to mind,” says award-winning cartoonist Rohan Chakravarty who has drawn this map. “The map visually represents how Mumbaikars share their living and working space with such a wide, yet largely invisible diversity of wildlife,” says Suma Balaram, senior designer, Purpose Climate Lab. “We hope to use it to reach out to them and urge them to join a signature campaign urging Maharashtra’s tourism and environment minister Aaditya Thackeray to join us in protecting Mumbai’s wild spaces.”
The campaign has five key focus points: To have the state government declare the lesser flamingo a protected species; deem certain rich wetlands and mangroves (Thane Creek, Gorai, Bhandup and Vasai to name some) as no-development protected areas; acknowledge the Aarey forests as no-development protected areas; support the livelihoods of the Koli community; and foster a community committed towards positive climate action in Mumbai.
In addition to plotting forest areas, mangrove wetlands, intertidal spaces as well as over 90 species of birds, butterflies, reptiles, moths, and animals found in Mumbai, Chakravarty has also plotted places of worship, tourist landmarks and more. The map also displays areas occupied by Mumbai’s significant indigenous communities, the Warli and the Koli, and marks spots for nature trails, photography, cycling, and other activities.
“All these magical, vibrant spaces and species are at high risk due to the planned development of Mumbai,” says Chakravarty, adding that he was surprised and awed by the extent of Mumbai’s biodiversity that he discovered while researching the map. “I learnt, for example, that Aarey Forest shelters so much biodiversity that one should fight tooth and nail to protect it,” he says.
The proposal to build the coastal road is another development work that would be disastrous not only for the mangroves, coral reefs and marine life but also for the Koli community that depends on this habitat for livelihood. Through this map and by using an evidence-based approach for their advocacy, Balaram and her cohorts at Ministry of Mumbai’s Magic hope to raise awareness about the city’s environmental concerns and how essential these are for the well-being of its residents.
“Our vision is to see this map placed in Mumbai, perhaps in the BMC office, or outside the city's park, or in the State Environment Ministry,” says Sonali Bhasin, senior strategist, Purpose Climate Lab. “We’ll launch an interactive and clickable version early next year and continue working on the campaign through 2021.”
It’s too early to predict if the Biodiversity by the Bay campaign will successfully mobilise Mumbai’s youth to engage in positive climate debate and action. However, Balaram is enthused by the fact that Thackeray has already responded positively to it on Twitter, writing – “If you want I could sign this too. We’re working on most of these issues, since our quality of life and coexistence with nature is in direct connection with how we handle these issues.”
Meanwhile, the act of researching and drawing this map has given Chakravarty much to be hopeful about. “It has enabled me to realise that although Mumbai
is a mess, environmentally speaking, it still has such teeming biodiversity,” he says. “It is a strong testament to the resilience of nature and gives us reason to believe that if we simply leave it alone, nature will regenerate itself.”