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May 22, 2023

A Community Effort to Save Monkey River from Erosion

The return to Monkey River Village was vividly different – you’d even say transformational, as a great portion of beach has been reclaimed. Monkey River was once a thriving town with a population of almost four thousand residents. But today, the northernmost village in Toledo District is home to fifty-two families or just about two hundred and fifty persons. Over the past six months, a community initiative is saving the village from the realities of climate change, reclaiming the beach that has been lost. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.


Nelda Garbutt

Nelda Garbutt, Resident, Monkey River Village

“It’s climate change and eventually the sea will go all the way to the back so you have to move.”


Relocation is the harsh reality of some coastal communities that continue to be threatened by erosion. In the village of Monkey River, erosion, as a result of climate change, among other agricultural activities, has been taking in homes and threatening the village’s existence.


Eloida Cuevas

Eloida Cuevas, Chair, Monkey River Village

“Monkey River is not just our home, but it’s the way of life. This is life for us. It was like all hope lost. We were so sick and tired of someone coming in for an interview; want to know what’s going on and every time it’s an interview and nothing done.”


The real fears that the village would have been wiped off the map of Belize triggered a reaction and the need for intervention. Back in early 2022, News Five captured the shocking reality on film – the remains of structures, including septic tanks, completely submerged and a part of the cemetery in the sea.


Duane Moody

Duane Moody

“Seven months ago, on October twenty-first, 2022, I would have been standing in two to three feet of water here in Monkey River Village. Fast track to May twenty-first 2023, I am now standing on several feet of beach. It is a climate resilient initiative that was led by Eworth Garbutt and a group of community members.”


Eworth Garbutt

Eworth Garbutt, Tour Guide

“Just before COVID, I woulda say 2019; my aunt left a beautiful property for me on the point at Punta Negra. It was washed away so fast. I travel with purpose and you would be amaze some of these intelligent people travel and see what is happening and they are talking about what is not happening, a reaction to climate change. And so that’s what drove me to this point, coming from Punta Negra and see that for me to survive personally, I have to be part of nature. Instead of relocate people, we relocate boulders; we relocate rocks that have no brains so they don’t really feel out of place. They are right in place, weh part dehn belong. And you are telling me the good mechanic Mister Skite and Miss Nelda shoulda just wash away. Moreover, we start with this and we actually saved two more building. This was the project that start the whole beginning. We save the clinic up front and also Mister Tzus to the south.”


Among the residents in that immediate area is seventy-two-year-old Nelda Garbutt who has been living in Monkey River for most of her life. For the past twenty years she’s been here in this house along the beach. She’s lost her vision over the years, and was at the brink of losing her home as well; the lower flat became unliveable when water began entering. Then during Hurricane Lisa in October 2022, the home adjacent to hers collapsed into the water.


Nelda Garbutt

“As soon as it get rough and the sea breeze blow, the water come in all downstairs because we use to have a piece of rug downstairs where we used to have table because we used to cook for the people from main that come and do things in the village all the time. Sand bag and then my son used to money for me so we used to pay three Spanish man to put sand and cement in the bag to put it out in the front.”


Duane Moody

“But that still never stop the water from come in?”


Nelda Garbutt

“No it still neva stop. When you hear that rough sea ina the night and dah mawning yo know, oh some of the sand gone.”


It’s a frightening reality that was also experienced by sixty-five-year-old Enid Coleman and her family. The sea was literally at their steps. Despite using sandbags, the land beneath the house was being washed away.


Enid Coleman

Enid Coleman, Resident, Monkey River

“I get frighten and then after the last hurricane, we get so frighten. So I say, I don’t know what we wah do.”


Sherret Cuevas

Sherret Cuevas, Daughter of Enid Coleman

“We had an extra lot that was further out from here and in front of that had a beach. But you can see it yearly continuously going, coming backward, coming backward.”


The conversation on climate change at the national and international level continues, as countries adversely affected are witnessing the changes firsthand. Eworth Garbutt, a commercial fisherman turned tour guide, maintains that there are interventions that can be implemented at the community level.


Eworth Garbutt

“If there is a poison tree they have something to fix it. If the erosion di damage, they have something to fix it right there. We use the coconut; we have done this in Silt Caye and it works. This works. I have done three years plus at my aunt property and I am reclaiming land like it’s amazing. And this is blood sweat, hard work money that is put in here, hard work people. The furthest the machine reach is on the north side of the river. From there, it is human power – not machine anymore. Man woman and pikney had some of the best time ever moving. Right here at this point, we are over fifteen truckloads of rocks. Every single one of these rocks – we weren’t around when dehn build the Mayan temple; this is the closest here. Every single boulder has a fingerprint. It is not machine that brought it here. We boat it over and that’s how we reclaim easy and slowly and steady. And amazing, God help those who help themselves. Where you are standing we didn’t bring any sand; God did the rest through nature.”


Duane Moody for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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