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The Edge of the Bay – Koli Fishing Communities around Bombay

Hidden amongst the mangrove swamps of ‘Bombay’ there remain many Koli fishing communities. The original dwellers of the islands. As mangrove swamps disappear, so are the communities. Caught between the expanding metropolis of Mumbai and Navi Mumbai, these traditional occupants are facing an unpredictable future.

Now the prospect of a new international airport could signal the endgame for the Koli way of life. Not just the land the airport will utilise, but also the infrastructure to enable arrival and departures to connect with Mumbai requires new road and rail links. All eating into the hinterland occupied for centuries by a simple living, but remarkable tough people.


A rare fibre glass canoe. It appears these ‘modern’ boats take too much maintenance compared to their original wooden cousins.


A Koli fisherman tends to his nets. The unusual shaped paddle can be seen on the left side of the canoe. Fisherman often stand to paddle, hence the length of the paddle blade.


Nets, canoes, floats. All in the process of being completely overhauled ready for the post monsoon fishing season.


For some their boat is home, all tear round. For others simple shacks are constructed within the mangroves. The mangroves provide wonderful shelter from the monsoon seas.


The sailing rig laying next to oars in a Koli canoe. Some of these canoes could be over a century old. Major maintenance takes place during monsoon, when fishing is banned from early June to mid August. Partly on safety grounds, but also to enable fish stocks to recover.


Traditional Koli canoes. Remarkable boats! Often rigged with sails. A sail rig can be seen lying in the third canoe up in this image. The hole for the mast clearly seen in the middle of the foreground canoe.


Before anything starts in India the occasion, or tools of the trade, are ‘blessed’ with garlands. Usually of chrysanthemums.


A Koli fishing boat, probably many decades old, waits below the sentinels of modern life, electricity pylons.


Crows and herons are common, even during the out of season. Low tide brings a myriad of crabs out, and easy pickings for hungry avians.


Sunlight bathes a Koli fisherman as he prepares the lines for the new season. The corrugated metal wall divides the remaining Koli community from the, now defunct Navi Mumbai Hovercraft Station.


A Koli fisherman cutting away the old nets readying for the new season.


New nets on old lines. Fresh rain covering the nylon with watery jewels.


Containers outside a fisherman’s shack. The popular God, Ganesh, waiting for the monsoon to finish and bless the new season.


Crabs amongst fishing detritus left by the outgoing tide.

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