Twelve miles from either coast of the Chesapeake Bay sits a small island in danger of disappearing.
Tangier Island, Virginia, is one of the most isolated and extraordinary places in the continental US. But the island sits just 4 feet or so above sea level, and experts estimate that in 50 to 100 years, the water tower in the center of town may be all that’s left of it.
President Trump, however, disagrees. The Daily Times of Salisbury, Maryland reports that after Trump saw a CNN report about Tangier Island, the president called Mayor James “Ooker” Eskridge to tell him he shouldn’t worry about sea level rise.
“He said, ‘Your island has been there for hundreds of years, and I believe your island will be there for hundreds more,'” Eskridge told the Daily Times.
But Business Insider photographer Christian Storm visited Tangier Island in 2014, and his photos show how serious the the problem has become there.
Storm wrote a previous version of this story.
Tangier Island has been losing ground to erosion for hundreds of years, but the combination of rising sea levels and more severe weather -- both augmented by climate change -- have increased the rate of land loss.
Records indicate that in the mid-1800s, Tangier Island encompassed about 2,060 acres. It was home to watermelon farms, grazing cows, and a variety of plant life. In 1997, the total land mass amounted to just 768 acres, of which only 83 were habitable. Today, the island is even smaller.
'We have a pretty high degree of certainty that things are going to get wetter and wetter,' Carlton J. Hershner Jr., a climate-change scientist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, told the Associated Press in 2013. 'Not to be a bearer of bad news for Tangier, but that would suggest that sometime in the next 50 to 100 years the island would basically be underwater.'
Just 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island is home to more than 500 full-time residents. That population has declined from over 1,000 and the total continues to drop every year.
The island is only reachable by boat -- it's an hour-and-a-half ferry ride from the coast. That keeps the place largely closed off from the rest of the world. Some islanders go years without seeing the mainland, getting the supplies from the mail boat that arrives in the harbour every day.
Most of the men on the island work as commercial crabbers and oyster fishermen, or 'watermen,' and send their catch to the mainland by boat.
But being a waterman is becoming increasingly difficult -- in an effort to prevent overfishing, Virginia has placed a moratorium on new crabbing licenses, and other restrictions have also reduced the length of fishing seasons.
Ricky Laird, 44, was born on Tangier and toured Business Insider photographer Christian Storm around the island.
'You don't have to worry about traffic jams and murders, child molesters, rapists, and thieves,' Laird said. 'You can leave your doors open. You don't have to lock anything.'
Laird and other natives of the island share a thick accent that's equal parts Southern twang and English brogue. Vowels are extended to multiple syllables, making certain words hard to understand to outsiders.
'Tangier's laid back,' Laird said. 'It's a nice place and everything's reasonable here.'
One of the most striking signs of the rapidly disappearing island is the Uppards, a beautiful area on Tangier's north end, where multiple families once lived year-round.
Today, the Uppards has almost completely succumbed to the rising water levels, turning into a swampy wetland. Major portions of it are fully submerged, only reachable by skiff. A solitary dilapidated mobile trailer on the beach is one of the only signs that humans ever lived there.
Laird recalls playing with his friends in the Uppards and hunting ducks there with his father.
But despite the stark scene in the area, he doesn't seem worried. 'The island ain't goin' nowhere. They talk about erosion, but it's been here forever and it ain't gone nowhere in forever,' Laird said.
Because of the island's low elevation and lack of space, tombstones are placed in the front lawns of the homes on Tangier.
Europeans, led by Captain John Smith, first explored Tangier Island in 1608, though it had been a spot for the Pocomoke Indians long before that.
Legend has it that John Crockett, still a common surname on the island, was the first to inhabit Tangier full time when he arrived with his eight sons in 1686.
In the 19th century, Tangier became home to annual Methodist meetings, and the island has been a stronghold of religion ever since.
The island shuts down every Sunday morning and once denied Hollywood filmmakers permission to shoot the PG-13 Kevin Costner movie 'Message in a Bottle' there because of the script's mentions of swearing, sex, and drinking.
Tangier is dry, with booze unavailable for purchase.
Even if the island does survive the next 100 years, residents of Tangier wonder whether anyone will still want to live there in the future.
'I'd like to be able to do this for the rest of my life,' Laird's 24-year-old son, Nick, said. 'It's kind of scary to think you might not be able to.' Nick is following in his father's footsteps and becoming a waterman.
Years ago, this career path was the norm for boys on the island. But nowadays Nick is in the minority. Many young people leave Tangier, some for college, others for the military, some to find partners (since romance is difficult on such a small island). When Business Insider spoke to Laird, he said the 4th grade class at the time had just one boy.
'A lot of kids nowadays, it just doesn't appeal to them. They see mainstream culture, and they say 'Hey, I think I'd like to move off, get a car, get a house, go to the mall,' Nick said.
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