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From trash to turtles on Indian beach? Meme a little misleading

A Facebook meme shared in South Africa claims that a clean-up led to sea turtles laying eggs on Versova beach in Mumbai, India, for the first time in “decades”.

It shows two photos. The first, labelled “before”, is of massive piles of garbage. The second shows tiny sea turtles on a beach and is marked “after”.

The text reads: “It took 96 weeks and thousands of volunteers to clean up Versova Beach in Mumbai, India. The payoff? Hundreds of thousands of seaturtles hatching this week. First time in decades. Anything can be cleaned!”

The meme was flagged as possibly false by Facebook’s fact-checking system. Did a cleanup on the Mumbai beach lead to hundreds of turtles hatching there, and do the photos show Versova before and after?

World’s biggest beach cleanup

A reverse image search of the “before” photo leads to news reports on what the UN has called the “world’s largest beach cleanup project” on Versova.

In 2015, Mumbai resident Afroz Shah started picking up rubbish from the Versova beach. His actions went on to inspire hundreds of volunteers, and together they removed thousands of tonnes of trash. The coastline is now a popular tourist spot

The uncropped “before” photo is seen in one report on the cleanup, where it’s credited to the Associated Press.

And the effort has led to turtles nesting on Versova again. 

According to the UK Guardian, people spotted baby Olive Ridley turtles hatching on the beach in early 2018. According to reports in the Indian press, at least 80 turtles made their way to the sea. 

Turtles in meme not at Versova beach

The meme’s “after” photo shows a lot more than 80 turtles. And a reverse image search reveals it’s unrelated to Versova beach.

The photo was originally published by the Visakha Society for Protection and Care of Animals (VSPCA). They run a sea turtle protection project, ensuring that nests of endangered Olive Ridley turtles are protected and hatchlings are safely released into the ocean. 

Pradeep Kumar Nath, the founder of VSPCA, told fact-checkers at India Today that the photo was taken by his organisation. He said the baby Olive Ridley turtles hatched at Ramakrishna beach in Visakhapatnam, on the east coast of India, some 1,300 kilometres from Versova beach on the west coast.

The two photos are unrelated. The one showing piles of trash is from Versova beach, but the photo of turtles is from Visakhapatnam. And while at least 80 turtles did hatch on Versova after the cleanup, they weren’t in the “hundreds”. – Eileen Jahn


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