The Future of Small Islands in the Chesapeake

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Maryland’s Smith Island and Virginia’s Tangier Island, both in the Chesapeake Bay, are rapidly losing land due to sea level rise, erosion and storm damage. I last visited the islands in 2011 for a school field trip. Smith Island seemed to be especially suffering from land loss. Many properties were flooded and front yards covered in standing water. Talking to the residents, many were worried about the rising waters coupled with a disappearing local economy. What little jobs were left revolved around harvesting seafood; most residents have to commute to the mainland for work (Crisfield), while many of the younger generations had moved off the island permanently in search of better prospects.

Tangier Island is struggling with the same land loss issues, although from what I observed, seemed to be a small step ahead of Smith Island. At the time Tangier had a seawall built around the more heavily inhabited part of the island, while Smith Island had no effective means of holding back the encroaching waters. In November of 2012 Tangier was approved state and federal funds to have a jetty built to protect their harbor- a $4.2 million project (source: Washington Post). According to a Bay Journal article released Sunday, Smith Island has recently been awarded funds for a similar project. Smith Island will be getting $15 million from the federal government’s Sandy relief fund. Money will be split between financing a breakwater project, jetty and dock repair on the island. Will the money save these Chesapeake islands from sea level rise and land loss, or is it just delaying the inevitable?

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