Tangier Island is Washing Away
From where we stood, a few hundred feet from the shoreline, the view was postcard-perfect. White fishing boats dotted the Chesapeake Bay under a hazy March sky; the eastern shore of Maryland formed a dark, distant stripe on the horizon some 14 miles away. “Sometimes I think we were crazy to build a house out here,” Marilyn Pruitt told me earlier. “But I guess there are worse places to get stuck.” The real estate market was stalled, she meant, and her family had been unable to sell the property. But it was also the case that she built the house in a place where the bay was steadily advancing on her backyard every year, usually by about a dozen feet. In bad times — when a nor’easter stormed through, say — great chunks of Tangier were torn off. But even in calmer conditions, the losses were steady and seemingly unstoppable. Week by week, wave by wave, grain by grain, Tangier was washing away.
Some of its troubles are the result of the same forces behind sea-level rises everywhere. Warmer global temperatures make oceans bigger — a process known as thermal expansion — and thus increase sea levels; at the same time, land-based glaciers around the world, along with the ice caps on Greenland and Antarctica, are melting into the ocean. “But they’ve got it worse here,” Schulte said. Tangier’s location in the center of the bay, along with its friable turf of sand and silt, leaves it dangerously exposed and fragile. What’s more, the land in and around the Chesapeake is sinking, because of lingering effects from geological events dating back 20,000 years. “They’re just in a very untenable position,” Schulte said. “And they don’t have any options right now other than something big to turn them around.” A very big construction project, in short.
From “Should the United States Save Tangier Island from Oblivion?” by Jon Gertner for New York Times Magazine, 2016; Photo by Andrew Moore
Listen below to an interview with a former mayor of Tangier Island from AuthenticUs Stories.
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