Trying to bring back the energy in ROB would require us to be focussed on one goal and to work towards it. Even after having miles worth of email discussions and meetings devoted to figure out how to reinvigorate ourselves, the one common agreement that emerged and kept resurfacing, was that we needed something to work towards. We reminisced on how enthusiastic we were last year when we worked towards the Big Clean Up on January 30th, 2010. Be it organising a concert to raise funds for the Clean Up or putting up posters or having small clean ups building up to the big event, our energy was palpable because we could see where we were going. However clichéd, that the journey becomes quicker, easier and more inspiring when we know where we are headed, still holds true and always will, especially when it involves a team. And that is how our Dustbins On the Beach Campaign (DOB as we fondly call it) was born.

To have dustbins on the beach had always been on the ROB agenda, but it was always hovering in the background. Right from day one, we had clearly understood and consciously made it known to the others that cleaning up is not we intend to do. Metaphorically yes, but not in its literal sense. Through the clean ups we wanted to show the public that it was dirtying; we wanted to spread awareness and also give them guilt trips.

But where will they put the garbage in? Sadly, the beaches don’t have dustbins. What’s the point in spreading awareness when there is no way to put the awareness to use? But somehow, we kept postponing taking up the issue of putting dustbins on the beach, because we always seemed to have other things to do. In our last meeting, we decided that DOB is all we shall focus on till January 30th, by when we would try to get the  Corporation to install dustbins on the beach.

We decided to send a petition to the Corporation urging them to take note of the fact that our beaches lack basic sanitation facilities such as absence of dustbins and toilets. Petitioning on the beaches, in our own schools and colleges, we managed to get 1010 signatures. And still counting. Initially we did have problems with dates not working out and even after a week into deciding that we’ll collect signatures we hadn’t managed a single one. Time and schedules were just lame excuses we shamefully leaned upon. How much time does one require to circulate a sheet of paper in one’s own classroom?

We had decided to announce a competition to invite entries for dustbin designs – practical ones unlike the failed penguin and rabbit models. And announce we did, with some funky posters designed by Kau. But we failed to advertise it aggressively the way we would have advertised a
cultural fest in our colleges. Result – the dustbin contest was a failure with even the ROBers failing to participate, even though a few had pledged to put their engineering minds to use.

But when Hande joined us again, the DOB mantra caught us and…we happily gave in.

Petitioning, garbage audit, press releases, flash mobs, the clean up – we got a series of events that would help build the momentum for the ROB campaign lined up. And guess what? The excitement and relentlessness was back!

Having got the petitioning going, we did our garbage audit successfully, though this also missed its original deadlines. The thought of Nity standing on the beach, on the day set for the garbage audit, all by himself, without a clue that the audit had been cancelled for want of  participation of required number of people, still makes us cast our eyes downwards in guilt. But this guilt also taught us the importance of planning and co-ordination, resulting in a successful audit whose data will soon be made available to the media along with the survey we conducted to gauge people’s opinion on the cleanliness of the beach and their responsibility towards it.

The survey happened the day after the audit, and people still turned up – a sign of the re-infused enthusiasm.

We are now all set for the Big Clean Up on the beach on Dec 18th, to mark ROB’s anniversary. The cleanup will be dedicated to spread the message of “the missing dustbins”. And to make the clean up successful in terms of turn out, ROB will be organising a flash mob on Dec 11th – a little teaser for our clean up.

ROB is all about democratising the beaches, about reclaiming it and establishing our rights on it. But before that we should ensure that we inherit a clean beach. Who wants a garbage dump for a beach?

It took me almost 40 years to discover the most astonishing place I have ever been to, and it was lying  there … right under my nose !
I have passed it by a million times and always turned my nose up at it, unable to bear the smell and the debris floating on the river.
However, when I turned forty four and losing more than just my hair, I discovered the joy of rowing .

Gliding past the bridges of  the Adyar on our racing sculls, I enter a world of wild, yet tranquil beauty. The Theosophical Society on one side and the island on the other, with fish jumping out of the river into our boats; Like some magical, lost kingdom, right in the heart of the city !

We row all the way to the broken bridge and back. Watching the birds in their hundreds roosting along the banks. And on days when  we have dallied a bit and the sun is going down, we watch the fruit bats over TS in their thousands, venturing out on their nightly sorties! Or catch the eerie call of the fox or a glimpse of spotted deer.

But a pall of gloom hangs over this magical place. The TN government with its Adyar Poonga plans have declared this an ‘Eco Creek’. The same government also plans to build an elevated corridor across the broken bridge. If this is allowed to happen, one of the most sacred places in the city will become  just a memory that some of us will cherish !

So how do you get there?

You’ll have to row under the  bridges of Adyar with me!

Not so gently, I’m afraid.

Or walk Northward from Elliot’s beach, along the shore, till you reach the Broken Bridge.

And how can you help ?

Join ROB and help some Mangrove saplings.
And strengthen the movement against the Elevated corridor .

Krishnamohan Ramachandran,

ROB

The Olive Ridley sea turtle truly is a magnificent creature of the sea. It sports a beautiful heart-shaped olive-colored shell with pairs of sharp scales, or scutes, as it paddles through the open ocean, looking like a living submarine. And when the time for reproduction comes, many thousands of female turtles emerge from the sea at night to lay their eggs, a truly amazing sight. This reptile is one of the wonders of the ocean, and is a credit to aquatic life.

Olive Ridleys are the most common species of sea turtle, and approximately 800,000 females come to nest annually. Their sizes vary from region to region, but overall, they are quite small among other sea turtles, adults being 45 kilograms and 56-79 centimeters on average. The largest specimens are found on the West coast of Mexico, but there are Olive Ridley habitats in all the waters around India as well. They can be identified by their olive heart-shaped shell and the high amount of scutes, surrounding it.

Perhaps the most prominent feature of their behavior is their nesting habits. Every year, a large number of females come onto beaches and lay their eggs in masses, an activity known as an “arribada.” Although some females will lay some of their eggs away from the others, most turtles will gather in masses near the coast before moving onto the beaches for the arribada. One time, 200,000 turtles took part in a single arribada on a beach in India!

Once they lay their eggs, the mothers will go their own way. As for the eggs, those that have not been eaten by other animals hatch into baby turtles, which try to avoid predators and make their way back to the ocean.

Olive Ridley turtles have now been listed as an endangered species. Since the 1960s, the overall turtle population has gone down by 50%. Some possible threats include the destruction of beaches which are used for arribadas, directed harvest of turtles, and bycatching, which can happen when turtles are accidentally caught in nets.

One such problem occurs on the coast of Tamil Nadu in Southeastern India. Currently, the government is creating several projects to beautify the coastline. First, they are trying to build docks extending far into the ocean, which will eventually cause erosion of the beaches around it to increase, destroying the nesting sites of these turtles. To add to that, they are thinking of putting streetlights near the beach, unaware of the devastating effect it will have on the turtle population. When baby turtles hatch and dig themselves out of the sand, they get back to the ocean by following light sources such as the stars, the sun, and the moon. However, if they hatch at night, they may mistake the streetlights for these light sources and waddle onto the road, where they may get run over by cars or eaten by dogs. Also, several fishermen illegally use gill netting, in which turtles are caught as bycatch.

There are several things we can do to save these creatures. We can educate the coastal population on the dangers of the government projects and eventually petition against them. We can also educate the fishermen on why gill-netting is wrong and what areas they shouldn’t fish in.

In the end, it all comes down to education of the locals. If we don’t stop the genocide of these reptiles, bad consequences will come to the sea. Without the turtles, balance in the coastal ecosystem will be lost, for they play an important role in the ecosystem by keeping invertebrate and algae populations at bay. A decline in their population would diminish fish populations, and thus hurt fishermen. Above all, we would lose many of these beautiful creatures that inhabit our waters.

Naren Pradhan

World Famous

March 1, 2010

Reclaim Our Beaches apparently isn’t a local phenomenon.

New Zealand is doing it too.

New Zealand has their own ‘Reclaim Our Beach’, an initiative to clean up Evans Bay.

Unbelievable, yes? That’s what we thought too.

It gets crazier, though. The ‘Reclaim Our Beach’ initiative was started by the local 350.org group in New Zealand.

To draw out the similarities…

Our very own ‘Reclaim Our Beaches’, was started as a collaborative effort between the ‘Save Chennai Beaches’ campaign, and the ‘350me’ group. We did clean up Elliot’s Beach. They have also done a survey of the beach, in a manner strikingly similar to us.

Well, you know what they say about great minds.

Krishna,

ROB

The Fight for the Planet

February 27, 2010

Every once in a while you might go outside for a walk. On the way, you might sit down, empty your mind, and take in all the beautiful images, tranquil sounds, and sweet scents created by mother nature. A little lizard might crawl by your hand. You might hear the lovely voice of a songbird. The wonderful scent of a rose might fill your nostrils. These are the marvels of the Earth’s many ecosystems… gifts that may soon go away.

Now, close your eyes, and imagine the future of the Earth. Flying cars? Nope. Magnificent chrome robots? None. Fancy spaceships flying at the speed of light? You wish. What you would see is a world laid to waste. Large pieces of coastal land would be flooded with high seas, now filthy with trash and toxic materials. The skies would be black with smog. The rivers that we get our water from would be either dried up or poisoned. Areas that once contained lush forests teeming with life would be dead, dry wastelands, with almost no animal life in sight. And worst of all, our very own species would be nearing endangerment, starving and thirsty because of the lack of food and water. This could be the future, caused by humanity’s worst enemy, ourselves.

For a long time, the planet has been a victim of mankind’s “progress.” At first, humanity was just another species, just a little more intelligent. Then, they started to form into small tribes, and in just several thousand years, they managed to spread what they call development all over the face of the planet. Beautiful, green, forests were torn down to make way for farmland, houses, and great big cities. Countless amounts of animals were killed, and plenty of species became extinct. And when all this was finished, the new people who came to live in these areas started abusing the land even more, throwing garbage everywhere, introducing invasive species, and ultimately hurting the ecosystem even more without thinking about the consequences of their actions. All of this happened so that the human population can continuously grow and live in the lap of luxury.

Some may ask, why should we care more about animals and other wildlife? I’ll give you some good reasons.

First of all, humans aren’t mini gods, superior to animals in every way. Just like us, animals can feel pain and fear, and they need places to live, which we are taking away. Would you like it if aliens came to our planet, burned whole cities down, put mines, farmland, and their own cities in their place, and drove us away to various “undeveloped” areas, only to come and repeat their actions again and again until there was nothing left for us. You would probably hate it, and feel the same way that those innocent animals did.

Second of all, when human development attacks the environment, it not only hurts the planet, but us as well! The many trees we cut down absorb carbon dioxide, one of the gases that causes global warming, a process that traps heat in the earth, causing glaciers in the polar ice caps to melt, increasing the sea level. We release many tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere with cars, factories, power plants, and other polluting machines and buildings, so trees help clean up our mess. Also, you may not know it, but many animal species help us as well. Bees help pollinate flowers, creating more plants and  the fruit we eat. Mosquitoes spread malaria, killing millions every year, but frogs help keep the mosquito population in check. And even if a certain species doesn’t seem to help us directly, the extinction or mass extermination of a certain species can cause a destructive chain reaction that can cause an environmental crisis of unimaginable proportions. For example, a staple of the otter’s diet is sea urchins, which eat kelp and other algae. If the otter population in a certain area started to decrease, sea urchins would thrive, and attack the kelp supply in the area. Kelp is also an important food source to many other aquatic animals such as fishes, and with the kelp supply decreasing, the fish population would start to decline as well, including the fishes that we eat. In conclusion, unsustainable human development is a destructive force that is both a threat to the planet and a threat to the human race.

Now that you know about the dangers that we bring to ourselves, take a look at an area that could soon become an example of this. In the bustling city of Chennai, in India, there are many beaches facing the Bay of Bengal itself. These beaches attract people all over the city to play at game booths, go on rides, splash in the waves, build sand castles, or just hang out. To add to that, this coast is home to many fishermen who depend on the sea and its life to make a living. Apart from people, the beaches are home to much wildlife, with crabs and bivalves digging in the wet sand and Olive Ridley sea turtles, an endangered species, surfacing to lay their eggs in the sand. However, these wonderful places could soon be desecrated by the monsters we call the government.

The Tamil Nadu government is proposing to build a road built on pillars going overhead along these beaches. This expressway will run along the coast within city limits and then loop around the city along all its waterways, costing Rs. 4000 crore (40,000,000,000 rupees). Its purpose is to “beautify” the beach and congest the city of traffic. However, there are many faults in this idea, faults that could hurt the city instead of helping it.

This project will do the exact opposite of what it is meant to do. Instead of beautifying the beach, it will badly impair the beauty of the Chennai coast both by hurting the ecosystem and crowding the area. To add to that, the many cars that come to the area will not decongest traffic in the city, but instead will bring many more cars to the beach road, making it unusable. Besides all the harm it does to the city, it will also harm the marine wildlife there. The cars will release much chemicals and spill oil, which will poison the organisms inside and outside of the waterbodies, such as the turtles that nest there. They will also bring noise pollution, soil erosion, and adverse effects on drainage systems, which keep the city clean.

This project may also affect the lives of common people. The road will uproot several fishing hamlets along the coastline, destroying the peaceful lifestyles of the poor fishermen, not to mention killing off the fish, their primary source of income. The tar and concrete will also radiate more heat, increasing the temperature by at least 3 or 4 degrees, one of the last things that the blazing hot city needs. Also, if a natural disaster such as a tsunami or a cyclone occurs, it could uproot the structure, damaging the lives of hundreds of thousands of people living on the coast. This project is a true example of horrible human development, one that hurts the people and the ecosystem.

If you think this is bad, then have no fear, go ahead and stop this. On the beaches of Chennai, there are multiple protest demonstrations going on, and you can be a part of it. To find out how, contact ‘Save Chennai Beaches Campaign’ and you will get the info on the upcoming protest demonstrations and other ways you can be a help. Together, we will stop this destructive programme.

Since the dawn of man, our species has been expanding its power over the face of the planet. Already, we have destroyed much of the wildlife on Earth, and this “development” is not stopping anytime soon. However, the common people have the power to push this back. If we join together as comrades in arms, we can form a line that the big corporations with their heavy machines cannot cross.

We don’t need money or influence, all we need is numbers. Come, let us rise up and fight for Mother Earth!

Naren Pradhan

Naren Pradhan

Editor’s Note – If you are interested in contacting Save Chennai Beaches campaign, please call Sharada at – 9600040682

Turtle Walks

January 16, 2010

So after much procrastination on my part I finally got down to writing a blog post!

Its 12 o’clock in the night and Neelankarai beach is eerily quiet.

The beach is so much more alive and happy at this time of the day, and its actually cold! Plastic bags flutter around in the breeze, leftover by the crowd that was probably here.

Anyway before I begin to ramble…Its turtle walking season again!

Hopefully some of you have been on a turtle walk. For those of you who haven’t, you’ve definitely missed out on something! 6 kilometres of walking on the cool wet sand and searching for turtle nests and hatchlings, a wildlife lovers paradise! I’ve always wanted to visit Gahirmatha in Orissa and watch the Arribada.

For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s when turtles mass nest on the beach! And by mass nesting I don’t mean a few, but hundreds and hundreds of turtles converging on the beach at the same time! Chennai has its own nesting sites all along its coast for the Olive Ridleys. We do get an occasional Green turtle too.

Sadly this year there have been numerous dead turtles washed up on the beaches. We even found a sperm whale last week!   Trawling and gill nets drown the unsuspecting creatures and wash them onto the shore. Hatchlings die of dehydration as soon as they are born because of the lights on the beaches that distract them from their goal – the sea.

What is the cause for all of this?  Who is responsible? It’s us! Every year they put up more lights on the beach for ‘safety’. More trawlers are sent out to the sea to fish, and more people come to the beaches and litter.

There is a solution to this just like most other problems : If you live near the sea switch off your lights from 12 to early morning during turtle nesting season (which is from January to April)! Clean up after you have fun at the beach! And don’t forget to use those trash cans! Only then will you be awe struck like I usually am when I go on a turtle walk or visit the hatchery.

Nothing beats watching turtle hatchlings emerge from their nests. They truly are magnificent creatures.

Anjana, ROB

Lethargy

January 11, 2010

People complain about the state of our country a lot. People also complain about the state of our city a lot. People definitely complain about the state of their street a lot. and people love complaining that their fridge is too loud, and their neighbours are too cold.

People tend to complain a lot, apparently.

This isn’t a bad thing, and I’m definitely not saying it is. It isn’t a great thing, either. It sort of shows that people care about where they live, and how they live in it. But there’s a distinct disconnect between what people are saying, and what people are doing.

There seems to be a general feeling of ‘Arrey yaar… let him take care of it, no? Why me?’ going around town. This isn’t very new. I believe the scientific term for this feeling is called ‘laziness’. Laziness is a dangerous thing, these scientists say. They say it’s very contagious, and to make sure to wash thoroughly once in contact with it. There’s no easy cure for it. Once the bug is caught, it’s extremely hard to get rid of.

What we’re trying to do at ROB, is make people understand that it isn’t someone else’s problem. It is, in fact, our problem. Laziness isn’t going to get anyone anywhere. It’s going to effectively doom us all to hell, but apart from that, it achieves near nothing.

Why is it our problem? ‘Cause if there’s a problem around where we live, then it should be our problem. Firstly, because it’s where we live. If we aren’t going to care about that, there isn’t much else to care about, and secondly, because there’s a chance we’re contributing to that problem.

Let’s take our (meaning ROB’s) favourite example, of the beach. Specifically, Besant Nagar beach.

There’s a lot of garbage down at besant nagar beach. A lot of it also doesn’t belong there. If you see a ‘surf excel’ packet there, it isn’t likely that people wash clothes there. Someone’s obviously dumped something in the Adyar estuary, which carried down stream, and washed up on the shore.

A solution to this problem? Generate less garbage.

How does one generate less garbage? Instead of buying new pens, buy new refills. Better yet, use a fountain pen and ink. Don’t buy as much packaged items. You might think you really need that packet of Lays right now, but you probably don’t.

It’s quite simple, but we seem to be waiting for some sign from the gods that it’s okay to not pollute.

It just takes some getting-off-our-backsides. Not a lot of it, just a little.

Krishna, ROB