The coastline of Cedeno, a fishing village in southern Honduras, looks like it was hit by an earthquake. Houses, businesses and clubs stand in ruins. Forsaken.
However, it was not a quake. Nor a tsunami. A much slower force is at work in Cedeno and other villages on the Pacific Gulf of Fonseca: sea level rise.
The ocean is claiming the protective mangrove forest off Cedeno’s coast and claws away at the land with sea surges.
Inhabitants of Cedeno and other fishing villages on the Gulf of Fonseca — shared by Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua — are at the forefront of sea level rise.
“The sea is advancing,” said Telma Yadira Flores, a 40-year-old homemaker from Cedeno who lost her house in a storm surge last year and now lives in a rickety shack with her son and daughter-in-law. The sandy beach is their kitchen floor.
“If the sea comes again, we will have to move. We will have to see where,” Flores told reporters.
According to the Committee for the Defense and Development of the Flora and Fauna of the Gulf of Fonseca (Coddeffagolf) non-governmental organization, the sea has advanced 105m into Cedeno, a settlement of about 7,000 people, in 17 years.
Apart from numerous homes and small businesses, a marine laboratory, police headquarters and a park were also abandoned to the waves.
The Michel Hasbun Elementary School, which once served about 400 children, now stands empty.
“There was a soccer field, it was lost,” Sergio Espinal, a 75-year-old fisherman, told reporters, pointing to where it once stood. “There were good restaurants, good hotels.”
The community has also had to contend with dwindling fish numbers.
The mangroves whose roots act as nurseries and hunting grounds for crustaceans, shellfish and many other species that in turn serve as food for bigger animals, are under attack from rising sea levels.
“Before there were schools of dolphins, there were sharks, swordfish ... and now everything has been lost,” said boat operator Luis Fernando Ortiz, 39, as he pointed out the broken and abandoned mansion of a former vice president overlooking the idyllic turquoise waters.
The community’s hopes now rest on a Coddeffagolf project, still in the planning phase, to improve coastal surge protections and reforest the battered mangrove.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres this month said that sea level rise could force a mass exodus “on a Biblical scale” as people flee low-lying communities.
“The danger is especially acute for nearly 900 million people who live in coastal zones at low elevations — that’s one out of 10 people on Earth,” Guterres told the UN Security Council.
“Low-lying communities and entire countries could disappear forever,” he said.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that all mangrove forests could be lost in the next 100 years.
Mangroves not only sustain sea life, but also help protect coastlines from storms and surges.
Central America’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts “are some of the most endangered on the planet with regard to mangroves, as approximately 40 percent of present species are threatened with extinction,” the IPCC said.
Leaders of government, the private sector, civil society and academics this week are to gather in Panama for the “Our Ocean” conference to discuss how to save under-pressure marine resources.
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