Successful adaptation to environmental change and variability is closely connected with social groups’ ability to act collectively, but many social-ecological challenges exceed local adaptive capacity which necessitate assistance from governmental institutions. Few studies have investigated how local collective action can be used to enrol external support for adaptation. This paper reduces this research gap by analysing a locally driven adaptation process in response to coastal erosion in Monkey River Village, Belize. Drawing on literature on adaptation and political ecology, we examine the different strategies the local residents have used over time to influence government authorities to support them in curbing the coastal erosion. Our findings show that the local mobilisation generated government support for a temporary sea defence and that collective strategies emerge as a response to threats to a place specific way of life. Our case illustrates that it was essential that the villagers could ally with journalists, researchers and local NGOs to make their claims for protection heard by the government. The paper contributes to adaptation research by arguing that local collective action, seen as contestation over rights to protection from environmental change, can be a means for places and communities not prioritised by formal policies to enrol external support for adaptation. Our study supports and adds to the perspective that attention to formal arrangements such as adaptation policy alone has limited explanatory power to understand collective responses to change.