Coastal erosion and climate change top of mind in Belize

Well it’s officially been a week of paradise in Belize. Our time here has had few drawbacks. From endless beaches, sunshine, wildlife, and friendly faces, establishing ourselves has been a pleasant distraction from the research and work ahead. The ‘Belize 4’, a super group of Master’s of Community Planning students were lucky enough to be selected to conduct research on Building Resilience in Coastal Communities. I am personally interested in the alleviation of coastal erosion and researching solutions for creative funding strategies that benefit the whole community. Our plan is to stay in an unincorporated village named Hopkins for two months before we head to the capital, Belmopan, further inland.

Hopkins is a growing village of roughly 3,000 people, which is filled with a vibrant cultural history and complex story. Hopkins experienced an erosion event along its 5.5-kilometre beach shoreline. When it first occurred, residents of this largely Garifuna village were alarmed and concerned as to what extent the ocean’s incursion would affect their lives. Luckily, the erosion subsided and the low lying village only lost 20 feet of shoreline, which is slowly returning. I have spoken with a plethora of business owners and residents in passing – all of whom are deeply concerned with the future of Hopkins and its beaches. In some instances, full-grown trees were swallowed up by the sea. There are efforts in place to plant more trees, such as coconut, along the beach and part of a cement groyne was removed to stabilize the natural flow of sand deposits in the ocean’s cross currents. As Hopkins further develops into a formidable tourist destination in Belize’s Stann Creek District, events like these need to be incorporated into the local and national dialogue. Examples of last year’s erosion event will likely become more common as climate change impacts the community’s coastline.

While I wait for ethical approval from the hardworking folks at VIU’s review board, I can’t help but wonder what my surveys and interviews will uncover during my stay. How different is Hopkins’ coastal development to other, more tourist-established, communities in Stann Creek District? How are they dealing with coastal erosion? And to what extent will these communities be affected by the changes to our climate in the future? My passion for helping coastal communities adapt to climate change impacts continues to ripen as time goes on. My career aspirations in this type of work are open to what the future has in store. However, the more I speak with community members, play soccer with the locals, and indulge in the country’s lifestyle, the more I recognize the resilience of the human condition and nature’s wonder.

Writing about introspective ponderings I can’t help but think about the vast world we are lucky enough to experience for the short time we have here. I take moments like these as time to accept the enormity of our universe and the seemingly insignificant blip I am in comparison, and to be thankful for the opportunity to lay in a hammock under the sun and surrender to life’s beauty.

Taylor Alexander, Community Planning, VIU