climate change

‘You Can't Live in a Swamp': Virginia Fishing Village Threatened by Rising Sea Levels

A new study found that Tangier Island is losing ground faster than previously thought, highlighting how climate change threatens U.S. coastal communities.

Fuel docks in Tangier, Virginia
JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Tangier Island, home to a Virginia fishing town and about 400 people, could be saturated by rising seas and convert to uninhabitable wetlands by 2051, according to an analysis released Monday. 

The tiny island, which drew national attention for its residents’ support of former President Donald Trump and skepticism of climate change, is one of many Chesapeake Bay islands sinking because of local sea level rise and subsidence. People have lived on the island since the 18th century, but the residents could soon face displacement. 

The new study, published Monday in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Climate, estimates that it would cost about $150 million to relocate the town of Tangier’s residents and as much as $350 million to bulk up the island and protect its shoreline. 

The quick timeline and steep costs for relocating a single small town illustrate the challenges the United States faces as sea levels rise and flooding increasingly threatens coastal communities. Millions of Americans could be forced to move from flood-prone areas by the year 2100, according to the 2018 U.S. national climate assessment. No federal agency has the authority to lead national assistance on climate migration efforts, a 2020 Government Accountability Office report said

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