The city’s beaches got a much-needed facelift on Sunday when as many as 5,584 volunteers set out to clean them up at dawn. The volunteers collected 36.7 tonnes of garbage from the beach sands of the Marina, Santhome, Besant Nagar, Thiruvanmiyur, Kottivakkam, Palavakkam, Neelankarai, Injambakkam, Akkarai, Panaiyur and Kovalam.

“The volunteers put up an excellent performance this year. They were divided into more than a 100 groups. Thin plastic waste accounted for 24 percent of the waste collected on Sunday. Most of the waste will be recycled to reduce the garbage that moves to the dump yard,” said Thilak Raj of Chennai Trekking Club.

The largest number of volunteers, including employees of MNCs, gathered at Besant Nagar at dawn. Over 1,120 volunteers cleaned areas around Broken Bridge and Besant Nagar. Over half the garbage collected in Eliots Beach area was thin plastics, pointing to the need for stringent action by Chennai Corporation against traders who use such material in the area. Thin plastics are those less than 40 microns. Such plastics are banned in the city.

A few volunteers even plunged into the sea and fished out plastic waste and abandoned nets from the sea floor. “We collected waste from a depth of 17 metres. A turtle was found dead in the debris,” said Rajinikandh A.R.S., president of Chennai Dive Club, who was one of the volunteers.

Another volunteer B. Aravind, director of Temple Adventures Dive School, voiced his concern about the deterioration of the beach and the marine environment in Chennai. The founder of Chennai Dive Club A.J. John said the impact of sewage outfalls into Cooum and Adyar was visible in the sea floor. “The sea floor had slush instead of sand,” he said.

Chennai Trekking Club organised the first Chennai Coastal Cleanup in May 2010 during which 880 volunteers collected 8.9 tonnes of garbage along the 15-km coast from Marina to Injambakkam. A second edition followed in January 2011 with 1,000 volunteers collecting 9 tonnes of garbage. In February 2012, 45 groups participated and entered the Limca book of records for the fastest cleanup with 2,369 volunteers collecting 17.6 tonnes of garbage in two hours. “This initiative will create awareness among people and ensure a cleaner beach,” said Jude Delano, a volunteer from CTS. This year’s event was also organised by The Hindu.