Smith Island sits in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, right between Maryland and Virginia. It was originally settled by English colonial settlers in the 17th century, and over the years it's been inhabited by watermen. Now, Newsweek reports that climate change is causing the historic swath of land to slowly erode into the bay at a rate of about 2 feet each year. By 2100, studies indicate that its shores might be almost completely covered by water.
Thanks to melting glaciers and the disappearing Greenland ice sheets, the Chesapeake has risen precipitously in recent years. So far, acres of Smith Island have melted into the tide, and right now, only 900 acres of the island chain are habitable.
The island might be going under, but many of its 276 residents are reportedly staying put—even though their homes sit only about 5 feet above sea level. After Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast in 2012, Maryland’s Department of Housing and Community Development offered them a buyout to move. Most of them declined, hoping that jetties, bulkheads, dredging projects, and riprap—piled stone that acts as a blockade between the coastline and shore—will help preserve the island. However, some of these projects still await federal and state funding.
Meanwhile, the island’s inhabitants continue to dwindle. Some residents are seeking new opportunities on the mainland. It seems likely that Smith Island might meet the fate of neighboring Chesapeake Bay islands like James Island, Holland Island, and Poplar Island—all abandoned or half-gone. However, many individuals continue to live on as they have for decades—regardless of what may happen in the future. To learn more about Smith Island’s fate, check out the documentary above or read the full story over at Newsweek.
All images courtesy of YouTube.