“We need to leave now”: the small fishing town in Mexico that has been engulfed by the ocean.
Antonio Merlin observed as the sea gradually approached his house through the living room window.
In 2002, a 55-year-old fisherman constructed a concrete home with mosaic tile floors for his wife and four kids in El Bosque village. At that time, the Gulf of Mexico shoreline was approximately one kilometer away, just a 15-minute walk from his home.
However, starting in 2019, citizens living in El Bosque have reported experiencing a succession of intense weather systems that have caused significant erosion along the coastline due to heavy rainfall and strong winds. As a result, over 60 houses in the community have been demolished by the force of the ocean’s encroachment. One of the affected homes was Merlin’s, which was completely consumed by the sea in 2021.
Merlin, a resident of the village since 1987, expressed disbelief at the thought of the sea engulfing their homes. However, when it finally happened, the sea quickly demolished each one in succession.
In El Bosque, the sea has destroyed over 50% of the village’s residences, along with the main school, nursery, and a major thoroughfare. Despite Mexico experiencing numerous climate crises, such as droughts and water scarcities in certain regions and floods and wildfires in others, El Bosque, home to 400 individuals, is the first reported case of a village being engulfed by increasing sea levels.
According to climate experts from organizations like Greenpeace and Conexiones Climáticas, the village of El Bosque, situated on a narrow peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico and Grijalva River, will likely experience further damage and loss of shoreline in the upcoming months due to ongoing erosion and severe weather events. While hurricanes have always posed a threat to the village, recent years have brought particularly destructive storms.
According to experts, the entire village could potentially be submerged in a year.
Pablo Montaño, the general coordinator of Mexican environmental activism group Conexiones Climáticas, stated that it is impossible for community members to remain in their current location. He added that in just one year, the shoreline has receded by 30 metres and the ocean has engulfed a block and a half of homes and a school.
On the eastern edge of El Bosque, the devastation of the village is evident as the churning waves of the Gulf of Mexico collide with what remains of destroyed concrete houses and the broken walls of an empty school. The sole standing wall of the school bears the alphabet and a whiteboard covered in multiplication tables.
Following the arrival of the tide in December, the school was relocated to a rundown zinc building with dirt floors across the street. As a result, students now attend classes for only two one-hour sessions per week instead of full-time.
Guadalupe Cobos expressed her concern about the current learning conditions, pointing to the sand-covered desks in the shack where her children were supposed to continue their education.
Cobos, aged 46, has been a resident of the village since 1986. She shares that her children now travel to school in the nearby town of Frontera, which is a 15-minute car ride from El Bosque. She mentions that not all children in El Bosque have the same opportunity, resulting in many not attending school at all.
Following the destruction of his residence by the ocean, Merlin and his family sought shelter in the local church. They have been residing there since 2021, along with numerous other individuals who also lost their homes. These families are just a few examples of the increasing number of Mexican citizens who have been forced to relocate due to the effects of the climate crisis.
Cobos stated, “We are currently displaced within our own country. Despite promises from the government to help us find new homes, we have been hearing this for many years.”
During his daily morning press conference in February and May, Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, was questioned about the government’s initiatives for providing housing to the residents of El Bosque. As a native of Tabasco, the same state as El Bosque, López Obrador stated that the village’s urgent situation was being addressed by the government.
The residents of El Bosque are becoming increasingly doubtful that assistance will come. They have been informed by government organizations multiple times that they will be relocated, but these promises have yet to be fulfilled.
The government of Mexico is seeking to provide a suitable housing option for families impacted by climate change in El Bosque, according to an email statement from the national housing commission, Conavi, to The Guardian.
Conavi stated that land is necessary to move the families. However, a specific location has not yet been determined and multiple possibilities are currently being considered.
Conavi stated that the community’s needs will be addressed by the federal, state, and local government. They also noted that the relocation process is not a straightforward or automated procedure with defined steps.
Residents of El Bosque are currently living in constant fear that the next hurricane or significant storm will destroy the few remaining homes that are still standing.
Cobos stated that our community in Mexico may be the first to experience the consequences of increasing sea levels, but we will not be the only ones. The effects of climate change are present in our daily lives, from our homes to our streets and schools. It is a permanent issue that we must address and take action on.