Tangier Island, just off the coast of Virginia in the Chesapeake Bay, has a rich history — visited in 1608 by John Smith, it was settled in 1686 and has been home to many families ever since. Today, however, the small, neighborly island is facing one threat that is hard to fight: a rising tide.
According to geologists, climate change is likely contributing to the sea reclaiming the island’s edges more quickly. Up until around 1900, sea levels in the Chesapeake Bay rose very slowly — about three feet every thousand years. In the last 100 years alone, though, sea levels have already risen a foot. For Tangier Island — an island where no part of the land is more than four feet above sea level — this is equating to a loss of nine acres of land each year. Top soil — the top six to 12 inches of earth — is washing away a little more each day.
In the mid-1800’s, the island was recorded as being at least 2,050 acres large. By 1997, this had shrunk to 768 — and it’s only gotten smaller since then. The island, once home to a thriving community, now has no more than 500 residents — and many of them are 60 years old, or older. The island is so small that few people drive cars, there’s no mall, and it’s hard to find romance when there’s only a handful of people your own age. The young adults of Tangier Island are leaving one by one for the mainland, and the majority of them aren’t coming back.
The island’s main hope right now is for the completion of a seawall along the eastern shore. The seawall, with an expected completion in 2017, could help to slow down the effects of time. While the water can be held back for a while, there’s nothing currently in place to prevent the island from being covered up completely in approximately 50 to 100 years time, according to the latest estimates. Island homes are incredibly cheap — because the land might not be there in a few decade’s time.
In an interview with Business Insider, island teenager Nick Lard gave his thoughts on the future. “I’d like to be able to do this for the rest of my life,” he said, of his crabbing job. “It’s kind of scary to think you might not be able to.”