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April 22, 2019

Magnificent Images Of Sea Creatures From Along Mumbai’s Coastline

Photographs by Shaunak Modi. Text by Shirin Mehta

Shaunak Modi photographs beautiful corals, zoanthids and sea sponges against Mumbai’s skyline

Driving along the sweep of Marine Drive or past the crowded Haji Ali dargah at Worli, is there anyone who looks out at sea and wonders about the marine life along urban Mumbai’s massive coastline? Perhaps only a small group of enthusiasts and scientists attached to the Marine Life of Mumbai (MLOM) group that aims to make denizens aware of the array of saltwater creatures that live hidden from view along the seaside. And yet what we see sticking out of the grey waters of the Arabian Sea today are the ubiquitous drilling and construction platforms of Mumbai’s Coastal Road Project, the 29.2-kilometre freeway along the coastline that will endanger Mumbai’s little-known and scarcely respected corals, anemones, slugs and other organisms.

Shaunak Modi, from team MLOM, sees what most Mumbaikars miss. And he records what he sees — the diversity of sea life along the fringes of this metropolitan spread. “In the last two years, I’ve photographed the most beautiful corals, zoanthids and sea sponges — wildlife I only associated with faraway islands — juxtaposed against Mumbai’s skyline. It’s finding such beautiful animals so close to home, and their resilience to thrive in such conditions that draws me to them the most,” says the photographer who has been capturing landscapes and wildlife over the last 10 years. His work seems emblematic of the dangers that these creatures are facing. He explains: “The Coastal Road will stretch across the entire western coastline of the city and its impact will be felt differently in different places.

In areas such as Malabar Hill, Haji Ali and Worli, where the intertidal zone is being landfilled, the loss of wildlife will be the highest. In areas like Bandra and Juhu, the large-scale disruption to the tidal flow may change the beach profile drastically, as the Bandra-Worli Sea link did in Dadar. In Versova, not only will a large patch of mangroves be cut, the proposed site for the sea link entry will disturb the nesting site of the Olive Ridley turtles that hatched last March. There are colonies of corals on the entire western coastline. At a time when the entire world’s focus is on protecting corals, we’re building a road over them.”

Modi urges people to join Marine Life of Mumbai’s free walks every month on Mumbai’s rocky coast to show them just how biodiverse they are. “It’s only when we familiarise ourselves with them that we can truly learn to love and appreciate and then protect our shores and the animals that live there,” he maintains. “The first step towards conserving wildlife or its habitat is learning of its existence. Until a few years ago, Mumbai’s shores were only spoken about in the context of pollution and plastic. That narrative needs to change. Yes, those are very real problems too, but in spite of them, the marine life thriving here should be celebrated.”

His images are reminders of what the city would be losing in its march towards ‘progress’. These photographs are aesthetic representations, some of them almost abstract in their compositions, of nature’s gift to Mumbai – one that no one else seems to be concerned much about….

Shaunak Modi is a wildlife photographer and part of the core team of Marine Life of Mumbai. His interest lies in intertidal ecology and citizen science.​

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