Catching plastic: Mumbai’s Koli community uses fishing-nets to tackle pollution

fishers with nets

An innovative fishing net installation has collected around 500 kg of waste from a single outlet in Malad creek in three days.  

Bombay61 Studio (B61) and TAPESTRY co-created this solution in synergy with the Koli community, which has traditionally served as the first line of defence for the coastal ecosystem of the city.

A new report (PDF, 30 MB) explains the process of designing the net filter system, and a video shows how it was installed.

Koli communities and pollution in Mumbai

The indigenous coastal communities have been the caretakers of Mumbai’s rich biodiversity and coastline for centuries. Yet their voices are sidelined when it comes to the city’s livability concerns.

This marginalization is evident in the constantly deteriorating condition of the city’s rivers and creeks, which are critical sources of subsistence and livelihood for these communities. The degradation of the city’s water channels is normalized in the official references and everyday associations of the creeks with ‘nallah’ (drains).

The Mumbai Climate Action Plan, announced on 13 March 2022, recognizes the disproportionate impact of climate change induced hazards on the vulnerable communities like the Kolis and talks about increasing the resilience of these communities.

This action plan needs to be made more inclusive by acknowledging the direct impact on the sustenance and the livelihood of Koli community and other creek dependent communities due to polluting creeks, and the solutions they have to offer to address the city’s livability concerns.

The problem has reached such a magnitude that Kolis now catch more plastic in the nets than fish! However, this very scenario, along with traditional fishing crafts and techniques, was leveraged to ideate and pilot test an innovative installation to trap the solid waste in Versova creek.

How the filters were installed

The net filters were designed to ensure the uninterrupted movement of fish, while creating an efficient method for waste collection.

The installation imitates a traditional fish catching system, that of Dol nets, which can be anchored along the mouth of creek outlets at strategic locations to maximize garbage removal.

In the video, you can see the meticulous process through which the net filters were installed by the Koli fishermen. The filters, which extracted 500 kg of waste from the creek in 3 days, could be replicated and scaled-up for other creeks in Mumbai.

This solution, while leveraging the situated traditional knowledge of the Koli community, also provides room for collaborative ecosystem building by involving multiple stakeholders – from waste experts and agencies at the segregation and recycling level, to civic authorities, other nodal agencies and young Mumbaikars – to push for the wider adoption of this model.

Read the report

A detailed report by Bombay61 Studio and Tapestry, with the support of a Mumbai-based partner, Ministry of Mumbai’s Magic, explains the participatory process through which this community-led and innovative solution was evolved. As the report explores, this simple solution has a great potential for transformation ‘from below’.

The report also shares several recommendations, including:

  • the introduction of the goal of a clean and healthy creek as an agenda for the civic authorities,
  • recognition of the role of indigenous community and re-classification of nallahs as creeks,
  • scaling-up and proper implementation of the Net Filters Installation through multi-stakeholder collaboration, and
  • stringent laws for sewage disposal.

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