Man behind cleaning up of Carter Road's mangroves hosts tours that end at sea

Oct 08, 2017, 14:34 IST | Gitanjali Chandrasekharan

Rehan Merchant, the man behind the cleaning up of Carter Road's mangroves, now organises tours that go through the aerial roots to end up at the sea

The dragonflies are out and the mangroves on Carter Road provide protection from the 3 pm sun. This is probably the closest interaction we've had with the coastal trees, despite years of Mumbai existence. But, today there'll be more.

Rehan Merchant, a Bandra boy of 57 years, has been spending his evenings on the constantly-under-renovation promenade for the last few weeks convincing walkers to donate to his cause: the cleaning up of the mangrove area. And, for those who oblige, he will take them on an hour-long tour telling them about the mangroves.

Merchant has, in the last five years, spent much of his time creating canals so that the two sewage pipelines that open into the beachfront on Carter Road clear out on the left and right sides -- where the mangrove growth is more denser at 350m and 380m. The canals also ensure that the mangroves have enough nutrition.

The tour begins. It's a safe idea to wear long pants, sleeves and gum boots. Between the mosquitoes and the wet sand, you will need protection. Oh, and watch out for wasp nests.

The trail Merchant takes is as educational as it is beautiful. Despite water flowing from the sewage pipe, there isn't as much muck as we'd expected. The stink associated with the mangroves has gone. The stink he blames on the stagnant sewage water that had found no outlet thanks to the concrete rubble (from the Titan Monument and the promenade wall) that had washed ashore.

It's this brackish sewage water, Merchant says, that's led to the death of most of an entire species of mangroves in the area. He calls them the white mangroves, but isn't very sure. There are two other species in the area -- a red mangrove and black. Merchant explains how the trees with the aerial roots survive, and how some trees fall to the waves, twisting and turning in its wake, and yet surviving just to ensure that the rest get a chance at survival. “It's an 'over my dead body syndrome',” he laughs, but also points out to a trees that quite proves his point. He also talks of how various human endevours changed the shoreline -- placing rocks to trap fish and later sewage -- and how he's tried to restore a balance.

Merchant stops and tells you where to take photos and from which angle. In half an hour, you reach a vista that offers a clear view of the sea. We stand on a sandy plain that has not a single plastic bag obstructing our view, thinking that Merchant's effort has certainly paid off in reclaiming Mumbai's shoreline.

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