The Unseen Toll of Mumbai’s Plastic Tide: A Clear and Present Crisis

plastic pollution
Mumbai’s plastic pollution : For every 17kg of fish caught off the Mumbai coast, an alarming 1kg of plastic is also inadvertently netted. 
On the sun-soaked coasts of Mumbai, a city renowned for its bustling streets and vibrant culture, an insidious crisis is unfolding – one that is impacting both the ecology of the Arabian Sea and the livelihoods of the city’s fishing communities. Amid the cacophony of private vehicles and the mass transit system navigating the city’s narrow roads, an equally daunting crisis is in the making under the surface of Mumbai’s waters.


Mumbai’s Plastic Pollution

Casting a net into the Arabian Sea, Sanjay Bamaniya, a 26-year-old fisher and lifeguard for the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, pulls in a catch that is far from ordinary. Instead of a robust haul of fish, what emerges from the sea are fragments of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), and expanded polystyrene (EPS), all forms of plastic pollution that are suffocating the marine life and strangling the once-thriving fishing industry.
A recent study led by Helen White, an oceanographer at Haverford College, paints a bleak picture of the Mumbai shoreline. The research reveals a disheartening composition of plastic debris, including significant amounts of polystyrene, PVC, and PET, amongst others. These findings are part of a broader trans-disciplinary project, ‘Inhabited Seas,’ which seeks to understand the impact of urban design on the city’s coastal and rainfall dynamics.
The sheer volume of this plastic debris is staggering. According to the Central Institute of Fisheries Education (CIFE), the north-east Arabian Sea off Mumbai contains an estimated 379 metric tons of marine debris, a whopping 40.6% of which is plastic. This percentage not only includes common items like plastic bags and food wrappers, but also smaller particles known as microplastics that often evade capture in nets and wreak havoc on marine ecosystems and human health.
Martin Xavier, a scientist at CIFE’s Fisheries Resource Harvest and Post-harvest Management Division, draws attention to the fact that for every 17kg of fish caught by a trawler off the Mumbai coast, approximately 1kg of plastic is also inadvertently hauled in. This disturbing reality has far-reaching implications for both environmental and human health. Microplastics are increasingly finding their way into the human food chain and have been linked to disruptions in our endocrine, reproductive, and cardiovascular systems, in addition to potentially carcinogenic impacts.
Mumbai’s plastic pollution crisis is not confined to its deep-sea waters. Studies indicate that marine debris, particularly plastic, dominates even the city’s mangrove forests. Further, as the Covid-19 pandemic unfolded, there has been a significant increase in plastic use, with items such as PPE kits, gloves, face shields, and N95 masks adding to the debris.
The fisher communities of Mumbai are sounding the alarm, urging citizens and policymakers to recognize the urgent need for sustainable solutions. In the face of this escalating crisis, it’s crucial that we, as a society, reconsider our relationship with plastic and work collectively to ensure the health of our oceans and the livelihood of those who depend on it.