Virginia’s Tangier Island, on the lower eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay, was hit by Superstorm Sandy one year ago. But it’s also being slammed by the changing climate and a rising sea level.
In fact, climate scientists estimate that in 50 to 100 years, Tangier Island could be underwater.
Longtime resident Carol Pruitt-Moore says she doesn’t want Tangier Island to be a memory she has to tell her grandchildren about — she wants them to be able to share her way of life on the island.
Moore joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss the issue and she and other residents would like to see done about it.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, it's HERE AND NOW. I'm Robin Young.
And this week, we've been marking the first anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. Tangier Island, off the Virginia coast, was hit by the storm, but it's also being slammed by rising sea levels and a problem unique to the island. Millions of years ago, a meteor hit the area and created a crater that the land is now sinking towards.
Scientists estimate that in as little as 50 years, Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay could go underwater, and with it, a rich history of English settlers and fishermen. Fixes are expensive, but Carol Pruitt-Moore is praying for one.
Carol, we're reading that some areas of your island are losing 15 feet or more of land a year?
CAROL PRUITT-MOORE: More than 15 feet.
PRUITT-MOORE: I personally have seen more than 30 feet erode away in - not exactly on Tangier, but on the island where I found the bones last year after Hurricane Sandy.
YOUNG: These are islands off of Tangier Island. And tell us about your discovery, because right after Superstorm Sandy hit, you hopped in your skiff. You go out to this outer island and find skeletons.
PRUITT-MOORE: Yes. I was just looking for arrowheads and pottery like I always do, and about 30 feet from the shore, I saw about six graves that had been washed open from Hurricane Sandy. And I saw a complete skeleton. There was a baby skeleton, which the archaeologists, they estimated it to be about 18 months old. And actually, there were even buttons on his or her chest.
YOUNG: And these are archaeologists that came out after your very disturbing find, because this is a cemetery that had once been on land and was now underwater and, of course, had been ravaged by Sandy. I mean, it just is a terrible metaphor for what the island is going through. What are you going to do?
PRUITT-MOORE: Well, in 2016, hopefully, we'll begin construction of a seawall on the northwest side of Tangier Island, which will protect part of Tangier. And we're hoping that we will get a seawall that will completely surround Tangier. Without that, Tangier will definitely become a memory, and I wouldn't want to have to tell my grandchildren about living on Tangier. I would want them to be able to experience - I'm sorry - experience living the life of Tangier like I have.
YOUNG: Yeah. Oh, boy. Well, we wish you the best.
PRUITT-MOORE: Thank you. Yeah, we're hopeful. But I just hope it's not a day late and a dollar short.
YOUNG: Yeah. Well, people are speculating about putting up some sort of dike or wall around the island. But then, of course, you have watermen who crab. So you would hem them in, and it's awfully expensive. What do you say to people who say, you know, we're hearing from people post-Sandy up and down the East Coast, there's a question of who do you save.
PRUITT-MOORE: Actually, Governor McDonnell was here last November, and actually signed documents stating that the federal government and our state government would actually foot the bill for our seawall.
PRUITT-MOORE: But my theory is: What's going to happen within the next two years if we do have a storm? Tangier won't be able to survive.
YOUNG: And what will be lost? You know, we hear in your voice the distinct accent of this isolated island, people who came - the original English settlers came from Cornwall, England. You have the Pocomoke Indians. What is lost if it's gone?
PRUITT-MOORE: What will be lost is a way of life that a lot of the country would wish they had. And it's Mayberry. It's, you know, you've got Civil War history, Revolutionary War history. We leave our doors unlocked most of the time. And we would lose the crabbing and then the fishing, and we would just lose everything that we had.
YOUNG: Yeah. Well, we wish you the best. Carol Pruitt-Moore, longtime resident of Tangier, an island off Virginia. Thank you, Carol.
PRUITT-MOORE: Thank you.
YOUNG: And you are listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
Jeremy Hobson joins Robin Young as co-host of Here & Now in its new 2-hour format, from WBUR and NPR.
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