STARRED REVIEW
August 2018

An island teetering on the brink of destruction

By Earl Swift

Scientists are finding that climate change has many ramifications, including stronger storms, droughts, heat waves and rising sea levels. It is this last factor that is directly impacting tiny Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay of Virginia. Predicted to succumb to rising tides within 50 years, the island will likely become America’s first climate change victim, forcing its longtime residents to abandon their beloved home.

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Scientists are finding that climate change has many ramifications, including stronger storms, droughts, heat waves and rising sea levels. It is this last factor that is directly impacting tiny Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay of Virginia. Predicted to succumb to rising tides within 50 years, the island will likely become America’s first climate change victim, forcing its longtime residents to abandon their beloved home.

In Chesapeake Requiem, journalist Earl Swift recounts his experiences living on Tangier for a year, tracing its history, getting a firsthand look at the environmental impact on the island and discovering what makes the islanders tick. Tangier is just 1.3 square miles, and an area in the northernmost tip of the island has already largely disappeared. As Swift notes, “the lower Chesapeake’s relative sea level rise—the one-two punch of water coming up and land going down—is among the highest on earth.” As a result, “the island is slumping, actually subsiding into the earth’s crust.”

With a history that dates back to the 17th century, Tangier’s residents are a tight-knit community of hardworking, resilient individuals, most of them devout Christians. Their main source of income is crabbing, an expertise that has evolved over the past two centuries. So there is much at stake for them if the island disappears—not only their homes but their lifestyles and livelihoods, too.

Swift details both the joys and difficulties of life on Tangier, coming to the realization that its sinking situation makes it “an island both literal and metaphorical.” Tangier will ultimately become a model of how the U.S. handles rising sea levels for cities and communities up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

 

This article was originally published in the August 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Chesapeake Requiem

Chesapeake Requiem

By Earl Swift
Dey Street
ISBN 9780062661395

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