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Discussion Starter #1
I just finished reading Chesapeake Requiem: A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island by Earl Swift. The author spent a year shadowing a handful of Tangier islanders and reports on the history, culture, politics, and future of the island.

The portrayal of present-day Tangiermen is about as evenhanded as can be expected from an outsider’s perspective. Swift avoids (as all too many other books about life on the Chesapeake have tiresomely done) upholding watermen as sacred salt of the earth characters pursuing their way of life as the answer to some sort of higher calling but also avoids going to the opposite extreme (as mass media articles are prone to) of portraying watermen as backwards simpletons.

As far as the political situation and existential threats facing Tangier, Swift makes a compelling case based on documentary evidence that although the island has slowly receding into the bay at least as long as it’s been inhabited by man, the rate of island’s disappearance has increased substantially since the mid-1800s and that the island is creeping toward being uninhabitable by the middle of the current century.

In the debate about whether the island’s subsidence is attributable to erosion or sea level rise as the result of global warming, the author comes down pretty strongly in the sea level rise camp, citing the island as possibly one of the first of many such places about which society will need to make cost-benefit decisions about whether to save or let go.

Somewhat undercutting that premise is the fact– as the author circles back to a few times in the text – that population loss will probably doom the island before water inundation finishes the job. Most of the island’s population is over 60, the number of families with children has steadily declined over the past 100 years, and of the few children who do still grow up on the island, an even smaller handful remain (or come back) to work and raise families. Building the wished-for jetties and seawalls would be easy compared to addressing the complex web of issues that cause people to be drawn away from the island.

Generally an interesting read about a place many of us have visited but few have ever really known.
 

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Also just finished the same book and agree with your observations. Spent some time talking with Mr. Swift at his book release here in the Charlottesville area and his even handed portrayal is also reflected in his views regarding other subjects.

I first saw Tangier as a youngster in the 50's and then not again until recently. Even with the short memory of a child i do remember it as a more vibrant community than is the case now. Truly the erosion of the land is in a race with the erosion of it's people. If you can arrive by private craft you can avoid the mid-day tourist flocks. The currents are pretty strong and much skinny water but worth a trip, and the book is worth a read.
 

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I know a guy, who owned a second home on the island. He would fly there in his private aircraft. He sold it about 5 years ago. Lucky. He said he had great memories from summers there for 30 years. Nature is and will take its course. No different than life and death. It can’t be stopped. The question truly is fortify or relocate. This one won’t justify the expense of fortifying, is my guess.
 

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Not to start a fiery debate or nothin', but Poplar Island went from 1,140 acres in 1847 to 5 acres in 1920, and was apparently even larger in the 1600s. Does the author talk about other islands disappearing as well when he attributes or connects Tangier sinking (if that's the right term) to sea level rise?
 

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Discussion Starter #5
There are three factors causing the island to disappear - erosion, subsidence, and sea level change. All three have always been in play, taking the islands of the Chesapeake from parts of peninsulas connected to the mainland in pre-Colonial times to the small to mid-sized islands seen by the time settlers first arrived. What the author argues is that the rate of the island's disappearance has accelerated significantly over the last 100-150 years and, as a result, some combination of the three factors listed must also be changing more rapidly.
 

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I know a guy, who owned a second home on the island. He would fly there in his private aircraft. He sold it about 5 years ago. Lucky. He said he had great memories from summers there for 30 years. Nature is and will take its course. No different than life and death. It can’t be stopped. The question truly is fortify or relocate. This one won’t justify the expense of fortifying, is my guess.
I agree the island likely will not be saved and if it were, it would probably be after all the residents relocated and some billionaire decided it would be worth the expense to fortify it to make a nice 4th home with private airstrip and dock.
 

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