Lots to sea

Updated: Oct 30, 2019, 11:02 IST | Vinitha |

After five years of reviewing spaces for children in Mumbai, I wait with bated breath for a new place to savour

There are portholes that can be flipped for information
There are portholes that can be flipped for information

Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Centre, Airoli (Indoors and Outdoors)

VinithaRight after our earlier "Discover Juhu" expedition, we find ourselves driving all the way to Airoli to the Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Centre (CMBC). A mid-day reader sends a message and a link, and it is enough for me to take a more-than-one-hour drive on the weekend with teenagers who no longer follow me trustingly (nowadays, I use threats as a starter). After five years of reviewing spaces for children in Mumbai, I wait with bated breath for a new place to savour.

We reach (Google Maps ki jai ho!) a place with army-like security. The building is quiet, the surroundings are velvety green, and a sullen person asks us to buy tickets. From there, we are directed to the audio-visual centre where a film is being screened about coastal and marine biodiversity. We are still unimpressed. So we step out of the AV centre and re-examine the place.

CMBC, we are informed at the doorway itself, has been "implemented by the [the state government's] Mangrove Cell and The Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit, Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety of the Federal Republic of Germany". But then I see a Jenga-like installation before the audio-visual room. The message below is good enough for goosebumps: "All Life is Interdependent".

The kids check out the taxidermied flamingos
The kids check out the taxidermied flamingos

A wall framing that's part of the installation contains a quote by Jacques Yves Cousteau (1910 to 1997), who I learn was a French explorer and marine conservationist, photographer and author who gave birth to the word "scuba", an acronym for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, a gadget he co-developed. His quote reads, "Never too late to learn and be in awe."

Each room at the centre contains a wealth of information meant for children to read, interact with, be curious about and explore. There are portholes that can be flipped for information, speakers that mimic the call of marine creatures when pressed, and looking glasses that can be peered into and spun around for more data. There are also large tabletops that are made for today's tech-savvy generation of children habituated to enlarging images with their fingertips.

The kids refuse to budge from these tables, thrilled that they can, with a flick of their fingers, choose a language (you can opt for Hindi, Marathi or English) and access information, expanding the beautiful hi-res images to up to a 6 ft in width. The display rooms have taxidermied turtles and flamingos, and the kids find it hard to believe that there are 7-ft long turtles in the marine world, until they stand against the turtle chart.

There is merchandise to pick up as well, but we hurry out to look at the open pool outside that houses koi fish and a couple of sharks. The boardwalk is stunning and both my teenagers find themselves unwinding as they walk in the open, with the rain beating down on them. After the monsoon, this is the place I am definitely returning to, because a boat ride from here will take us across 1,690 hectares of mangroves and mudflats between the Vashi and Airoli creeks for a flamingo safari of a lifetime.

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Fact file

Where: Mangrove Forest, 2, Diva Nagar Road, Airoli, Navi Mumbai.
Best for: Girls and boys, five years and above
How to reach: We drove, but the simplest way would be to take a local train from CSMT station or connect to any Central Railway station heading towards Panvel and alight at Airoli station.
Timings: Open all days of the week, 9 am to 6 pm
Budget: '25 per head for children, '50 for adults (Free for BMC and NMC schoolchildren)
Food: No. Carry
Water: No. Carry
Rest Room facilities: Yes
Where else to go: There are plenty of outdoor options for people to explore in Navi Mumbai. There is the picturesque Pandavkada Fall at Kharghar, and Kharghar hills if you have older kids who like to trek or those who love nature. Or, head to Central Park (Kharghar) or Wonder Park at Nerul if you have younger kids.

Parent Poll: A must-visit for schoolchildren to understand why mangroves are so important to our bio diversity.
Rating: Rating
Kids' Poll: Loved the interactive tabletop screens and the outdoors. We could have spent the day here.
Rating: Rating

What's Good: On par with any international museum on marine information. Very affordable. Loved the balance between the indoor and the outdoors.
What's Not So Good: While the staff slowly warmed up to us, it would have been great if they were more forthcoming.

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