Two years ago, I walked on a Mumbai shore for something other than exercise for the first time.
The message on my phone said, “Haji Ali shore walk. 6.30 a.m.” Until then, the only thing that could nudge me out of bed that early was a forest safari with the promise of stripes. I casually reached the rocky patch of shore behind the Haji Ali durgah an hour late, expecting to be underwhelmed. How could this crowded, polluted coast possibly host wildlife? The three founders of Marine Life of Mumbai – Pradip Patade, Abhishek Jamalabad and Siddharth Chakravarty (see Sanctuary Vol. XXXVIII No. 10, October 2018) – seemed to be unduly excited about a few crabs.
But a closer look at the tiny tide pools that day – and almost every low tide cycle since – turned everything I thought I knew about my city’s shore on its head. Our idea of a marine space is usually one filled with crashing waves and the swell of high tide, not a vast rocky outcrop that even the water seemed to abandon, receding far into the distance (just like the flawed notion that a forest equals dense trees, and seemingly ‘empty’ grasslands that host many animals).
But here, the durgah stood guard over a small colony of rust-orange, hexagonal polyps of false pillow coral, resembling a honeybee comb draped on a rock. A short distance away, a sea fan (also a type of coral), sat partly submerged. People swarmed on the road outside, and on the walkway to