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Jan 14, 1998

Monkey River faces disaster as beach erodes

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As a reporter for Channel Five I’ve done a fair bit of traveling and covered my share of emergencies like fire, flood and traffic accidents. But last Saturday on a trip to the village of Monkey River I discovered that not all disasters occur suddenly.

The community of Monkey River is no stranger to boom and bust. In the 1950″s it thrived off the presence of a sawmill, while productive fishing grounds also made it a major provider of seafood. But the timber eventually ran out, the ambitious fishermen moved elsewhere and in 1981 the community suffered the ultimate indignity of being demoted from the status of a town to that of a mere village. All was not lost however, as the combination of river and sea brought increasing numbers of sport fishermen and visitors who came to see the howler monkeys and other wildlife in the nearby forests.

But as the two hundred and seventy five residents of Monkey River try to revitalize their village with tourism, one of its main attractions, the beach has all but washed away.

It happened gradually and no one we spoke to could pinpoint an exact date. But over the last decade, the beach, which once stretched out as far as a hundred yards beyond these houses, has slowly receded to the point where the buildings will have to be condemned. Eleanor Sandlin, speaking from steps that only a few months ago rested on dry land, says the problem is getting worse.

Eleanor Sandlin, Resident

This is because of the Erosion. We use to have beach all the way out to the front. It constantly … whenever the wind changes or whenever the sea comes in, it washes away the sand. It never comes back. It just keeps getting worse and worse. there was houses beyond this house, those houses have gone to the sea.

To walk down the coast is like touring a disaster area. Coconut trees were no match for the never ending power of the sea. Some residents put their faith in sandbags … or hurriedly erected makeshift sea walls … all to no avail. And the damage was not only to homes. last year Enid Coleman and her family invested twenty thousand dollars to begin construction on a sea front bar. Today that establishment sits not in front of the sea, but over it.

Enid Coleman, Resident

It makes us feel so bad because it was in a time that we needed the bar. It was last year Easter that this happened, so we had to take down the bar and had to put it on the land and use it there.

Had big beach out, had big beach out, pretty beach out because the guys they use to go and play football out on the beach. All sort of things the boys they use to do. Sometimes in the Easter season, thousands of people come here and they all enjoy. You see them, lot of them out in the sea bathing and from then, must be some three or four years the beach start to wash away.

David Linares – Resident

I had a piece of my house that was over that side, but after a couple of high tides in October, it was high tide month, it started eating away at the beach very fast, pretty fast so I had to take off a piece of my house and carry it of.

This cement post marks the boundary of David Linares’ property or what’s left of it. Because this pillar marks the back boundary of the land. The front post is a hundred feet out to sea.

What has also been taken out to sea is the special spot on the beach where David and his wife Virginia exchanged wedding vows in September of 1994. If they returned to that spot today, they would be wet to their waist and if a wedding picture is not sufficient to back up the village’s story, this aerial video taken in December of 1994 offers even more dramatic proof of the unpredictable power of nature.

But was it nature that transformed one of Belize’s most attractive beaches into a pile of debris? …Or did man lend a helping hand? Many villagers are convinced that part of the problem is being caused by large scale agriculture and fish farming operations up river, which have been established over the last decade.

Percival Gordon, Fisherman, Monkey River Village

Something the cause it for sure, apart of natural cause, but definitely something the cause it much more the way it is happening.

And that particular something, which dominates the conversation in the village restaurant is a fish and shrimp farm which diverts large amounts of water from the Monkey River.

Percival Gordon

Well the only thing I have in mind with those guys that have those water stuff up there in the river. They pump about ten gallons a minute out of our river.

To investigate whether the pumping from the river is responsible for the erosion on the beach, the government last year sent down a team from its Coastal Zone Management Project. Oceanographer Eugene Ariola offers one explanation of how the change in river flow could affect the beach.

Eugene Ariola, Oceanographer, CZMP

The supply of sediment is being reduced because the water does not have the force to wash down the sediment to the beach. The force of the water is being reduced because of abstraction for irrigation to water Banana farms, Citrus farms and Mango farms, and water is being abstracted for Aqua culture and also water is being transferred from one water shed to another. This is all creating an accumulative effect on the river and therefore on the beach at Monkey River village.

While Ariola and a team of scientists and engineers will be conducting further studies, the people of Monkey River, particularly those whose homes are being slowly claimed by the sea are left wondering what to do next.

David Linares

How has this affected you emotionally? Well in a bad way, in a bad way. Ever since I was a little kid, I lived here, I lived here all my life here and now I am thinking of going away, this is discouraging it really is discouraging.

Short of massive dredging or construction of sea walls, at this point there is little residents can do except pray for a return of their beach. In the meantime they’ll work hard to show tourists that despite the lack of a white sand beach, life in Monkey River still has its attractions.

A visit to Monkey River, despite the problems on the beach, is still a most rewarding experience. Several small hotels have recently been constructed and the local guides are both friendly and knowledgeable. One resident describes the picturesque village as a place where people still sleep with their doors and windows wide open. To arrange a visit just call the community telephone at 06-22014.

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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