Policymakers all along the Eastern seaboard are grappling with the issue of sea level rise. Some of the planning dilemmas are on a very large scale — such as how to protect New York City, one of the world's great hubs of business and commerce. Other problems are much smaller in scope, but no less touching on a personal scale. One such small problem is the future of Tangier Island, Virginia, a tiny community in the Cheseapeake Bay. Below, MSNBC looks at the island's plight in 2015.
The New York Times Magazine looked at Tangier island in a long, detailed article on July 6 (see: "Should the United States Save Tangier Island From Oblivion?", by John Gertner. Through the eyes of David Schulte, a marine biologist with the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Times surveyed the island's future prospects — and found them, in a word, "bleak." Only a major engineering effort could preserve the island beyond the next 50 years, Schulte concluded in a 2015 online article in the scientific journal Nature (see: "Climate Change and the Evolution and Fate of the Tangier Islands of Chesapeake Bay, USA," by David M. Schulte, Karin M. Dridge & Mark H. Hudgins). And 50 years was an optimistic guess, Schulte wrote: "The high sea level rise scenario will accelerate the land loss and subsidence, such that the Town may need to be abandoned in as few as 25 years."
And Tangier is not alone, Schulte told the Times: "'The Outer Banks, the Delmarva Peninsula, Long Island, the Jersey Shore — they’re in the same boat,' Schulte said. 'It’s going to just take a little longer for them to get to where Tangier is now.' An excruciating question is how we will decide which coastal communities to rescue and which to relinquish to the sea." Schulte and his colleagues have a detailed proposal for preserving the island as the sea rises and the land subsides — but who's going to pay for that, not just for one small island, but multiplied many times over in the other communities facing similar situations?
But hope is a powerful force in human affairs. And at least one business is placing some big hopes on Tangier Island: the Tangier Island Oyster Company, a startup run by business partners Craig Suro and Tim Hickey. The pair are hoping that the shallow waters around the island can support an oyster farm. In fact, reported the Washingtonian, "Suro and his partners have bet half a million dollars on being able to turn this patch of bay into an oyster-farming empire." (See: "Tangier Island Is Sinking. Its Population Is Shrinking. And These Guys Want to Make It the Oyster Capital of the East Coast," by Harrison Smith.
After some initial struggles and early growing pains, Suro and Hickey's oyster company seems to have found its footing, landing a big contract with a well-known restaurant operation — just before Schulte's report was published. The pair are staying optimistic. But as Schulte puts it: "Someone way above me is going to have to decide if the town is really worth saving and relocating.”