Dozens of islands in Chesapeake Bay were home to human populations, farms, forests, even a few stores and hotels, in the 18th and 19th centuries. Starting in the early 1900s, islanders migrated to the mainland. Now all but two of these offshore islands have disappeared or no longer sustain the communities that once thrived in isolation.
Chesapeake Requiem: A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Islands is a new book about one of those islands, Tangier Island in Virginia. Tangier Mayor James ‘Ooker’ Eskridge is a main character in author Earl Swift’s book, offering enlightening perspectives on what makes the island’s community distinct and the forces that make its existence uncertain.
Ironically the same water that sustains the island’s economy with crabs, fish and oysters now threatens the buildings, marshes and graveyards that define the Tangier community. Yet a community at visible risk from the encroaching water is not impressed by scientific evidence that human activity is contributing to climate change and sea-level rise.
Maps document Tangier’s losses: About two-thirds of its land area since 1850 and now about nine acres each year.
Swift and Eskridge have different ideas about why the island is changing. To Eskridge and most of his neighbors, Tangier is clearly shrinking, but they believe this is due to erosion. Swift reports that a lot of scientists say the problem is due to sea-level rise, subsidence of the land and climate change.