Saving Monkey River: The Historic Kriol Village Battling Erosion

by Khaila Gentle
monkey river erosion recovery efforts

Sitting on Belize’s southern coast in the Toledo district lies Monkey River Village.  It has a small population of no more than 200. Many of its residents are descendants of loggers or banana industry workers. This historic village is one of the oldest and last pure Kriol (Creole) settlements in the country. Thanks to erosion, though, it is slowly being wiped off the map. Monkey River’s story has been covered in the local news for years now. This week, though, the plight of the villagers of Monkey River got a bit of international attention via UN News.  Read an excerpt of the article below.

Saving a Belize Village from Man-Made Erosion

The Monkey River beach no longer exists. Photo by Chris H from England – Toledo, Belize

“My grandma and my grandfather are now washed out in the sea,” says Mario Muschamp, gazing out at the coast near his close-knit Creole community. “You know, their graves are gone. That really hurts.”

This is the reality for the inhabitants of Monkey River, who have watched on, powerless, as the sea claims their football field, their homes, and even the graves of deceased loved ones.

Experts have identified man-made activity as the main cause of the coastal erosion which is devastating the village and causing such deep suffering. The situation has deteriorated to the extent that some members of the community have moved away.

The Geotube Fightback

monkey river erosion

Photo courtesy Megan Rodden (Real Life Recess)

Others, however, have decided to stay and fight, and, in the words of local schoolteacher Audra Castellanos, “put Monkey River back on the map”.

Mr. Muschamp is the President of the Monkey River Watershed Association. It’s a community-based organization working to conserve and restore the integrity of the entire Monkey River Watershed, and ensure that it continues to provide a multitude of benefits to local residents and the coastal ecosystem.

To this end, the Monkey River Watershed Association partnered with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to install one hundred and sixty feet of sand filled “geotubes” in front of the most threatened properties.

Residents are teaming up with UNDP to install the geotubes. They are massive synthetic sandbags that create physical barriers to wave energy and erosion, slowing the disintegration of the shoreline.

‘We need climate justice’

“Monkey River Village is one of those coastal communities that we prioritize,” said Leonel Requena, UNDP’s National Coordinator of the GEF Small Grants Programme. “Monkey River’s inhabitants are not responsible for the climate crisis, yet they are the ones that are suffering the greatest loss and damage. What we need is climate justice.”

The story of Monkey River is about a hub of biodiversity where the river meets the sea. But more than that, it is about a community that, like so many others, is joining forces to turn the tide on climate change, with the support of the United Nations.

Despite the growing threat of man-made erosion and climate effects, there are flickers of hope in Monkey River. This is thanks in no small part to its people. Men like Mario Muschamp and Placencia’s Eworth Garbutt (Garbutt was a key figure in saving the famous Silk Caye from erosion)  have been pivotal in the efforts towards saving the Creole village.

The History of Monkey River Village

Back in the 1800s, among an emerging banana industry, the village of Monkey River was home to some 2000 persons. It sits near the eponymous waterway connecting the village to neighboring Placencia. Today, its population has dwindiled. The families still living in the village, however, remain resilient and determined to save their home.

Fishing and tourism are the lifeblood of Monkey River. To help sustain the village, there are a number of river tours and nature experiences offered to visitors. Those include nature trails, birdwatching, manatee sighting, and more. The village’s main attraction, howler monkeys, are the world’s loudest land animals. And, you can often spot them (or hear them) hanging around in the trees.

Those wishing to take a trip to Monkey River can do so by booking an eco-tour such as the one offered by Chabil Mar Villas in Placencia.

Featured Photo courtesy Megan Rodden.

Editor’s Note: This article was adapted from the UN News story entitled “I don’t want to see more graves go to the sea’: Saving a Belize village from man-made erosion.”

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