The fight to protect vulnerable Chesapeake Bay communities threatened by storm surge, climate change – CBS Baltimore

SMITH ISLAND, Md. (WJZ) – Maryland has more vulnerable communities to sea level rise than most other states.

And while some scientists believe it’s inevitable that some communities in the Chesapeake Bay will eventually be submerged in the rising waters, many residents who live there vow to keep fighting to save their homes. — and their way of life.

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One of the most endangered is in the Chesapeake Bay, about 12 kilometers from Crisfield in Somerset County.

Smith Island is the last inhabited island chain in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay without any connection to the mainland — except by boat.

Eddie Somers, who grew up on Smith Island, said: “It’s a unique, number one place. “Everybody knows your business.”

Betty Tyler, a lifelong resident who just left for college, says: “The island saying goes, ‘When you get mud between your toes, you never want to leave.

Smith Island (Photo via Mike Hellgren/WJZ)

Smith Island has long been known for its famous layered cakes of the same name, It’s a Maryland State Dessert.

The people of Smith Island also have a different way of talking: “Our O-Us and OW. Like, I say ‘house’ and I say ‘brown’ (sounds like faucet and brunette), “Tyler said.

The pace of life here hasn’t changed much in the decades since Reported by Walter Cronkite in February 1965.

But some worry whether this Maryland treasure – now with just under 200 residents from more than 800 in the 1960s – can last for the next 80 years. That’s when the water level in the Chesapeake Bay is predicted to rise by as much as 4 feet, which should keep things pretty much underwater.

“How hard is that job of protecting the coast?” Investigator WJZ Mike Hellgren Matt Whitbeck, a supervisory biologist for the Martin National Wildlife Refuge.

“Honestly, that’s a pretty tall order,” Whitbeck said. “Sea levels are rising and land is falling, and that is happening at a background rate. The significant changes you see every year are shoreline erosion. It is a very conspicuous thing.”

Some of the changes that Whitbeck mentioned are shown in satellite images provided by NASA.

Nearby Fox Island is also when sea level rises.

Whitbeck prides himself on his efforts to protect the fragile marshlands around Smith Island and prevent shoreline erosion. The federal government has pumped millions of dollars into projects including a protective jetty – after residents watched the coastline disappear at an alarming rate.

The federal government has pumped millions of dollars into projects, including jetties, to protect Smith Island from erosion. (Photo courtesy of Coastline Design PC)

“Coastal erosion is huge,” says Whitbeck. “And especially when you look at the aerial photographs from 10 to 20 years ago. … There are peninsulas and coves on those islands, places with names. which is now only lost to the Chesapeake Bay. And that’s just the significant rate of erosion that we’ve been trying to tackle with these projects. “

“Right now and in the next 50 years, I think she will catch up,” said Scott Hardaway Hellgren the fate of Smith Island.

Hardaway’s company, Coastline Design PC, helped build the so-called “living coast”, consists of large rock structures that block waves.

“It’s a process where you put breakwaters along the coast to control and create headlands and allow the area to continue to erode in the middle, and eventually it stops eroding,” explains Hardaway. wear and create small dents,” explains Hardaway.

“How much time did you buy for Smith Island?” Hellgren request.

“Well, as I say, we’ve mitigated the erosion and, I think we’ve fixed it in 15-20 years maybe even more,” Hardaway said.

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On the island, the pandemic has brought in more visitors, with those eager to get away from renting there. Many river dwellers now offer boat tours.

“Especially since Covid. We see a lot of people wanting to get away from people,” said Mark Kitching, a riverside resident and who gave WJZ a tour of Ewell in his golf cart.

Ewell is the community that houses most of those tourists.

“I never realized how little Marylanders knew about crabs until I found them in my slums. The people of Maryland know nothing about crabs like the people of Smith Island,” quipped Kitching.

He has also seen environmental changes.

The federal government has pumped millions of dollars into projects, including jetties, to protect Smith Island from erosion. (Photo courtesy of Coastline Design PC)

“It has affected our livelihood because of erosion. As erosion takes place, it takes away habitat. As the marsh leaves and patches disappear, it changes everything around it,” says Kitching. “We are used to working in shallow water. All becomes deep water. … Just because a small island was washed away – a small swampy island – perhaps 25 acres of habitat had disappeared. ”

Hellgren asked Kitching where he’d seen Smith Island in 50 years.

“It’s hard to say. … I see the land here and I see the people here,” said Kitching.

So did Eddie Somers. He grew up on the island and took WJZ there on his boat. Despite having a home there, Somers said he’s not worried about sea level rise.

“Sea level rise doesn’t worry me. he said. “I mean, I’m not crazy.”

Many residents are unsure whether the cause of the problems is man-made climate change. The same goes for public opinion on nearby Tangier Island, which may not exist even in the next 50 years, as reported by CBS News.

“I’m not sure,” Betty Tyler said when asked if she believed climate change was the cause. “I have listened to all these things. You’ll hear people talk about sea level rise, but I also hear that it’s everywhere on the waterfront, not just on our island. “

The Tyler family owns several businesses on Smith Island, including the only gas station on the island.

“It’s like a big family. If you get stuck, the whole island is in trouble,” she said.

The federal government has pumped millions of dollars into projects, including jetties, to protect Smith Island from erosion. (Photo courtesy of Coastline Design PC)

Tyler admits that high tide flooding has made it more difficult for some of her employees.

“If they live on the other side of the lowlands, they might have to leave home two or three hours in advance just to get to work,” she said. “Because when they had to go to work, the tide would have flooded the roads and they couldn’t go to work.”

“Are you worried about what things will be like in 25 years, 50 years from now?” Hellgren request.

“Oh, yes. I don’t want the business to end now. We want it to continue to exist for the next generations,” she said.

Tyler said jetties and other safeguards are helping. And she has faith in the future — hoping that the water that is the lifeblood of Smith Island will not fail.

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“If they could raise our roads a little bit and prevent more flooding, life would be a lot easier there,” she said. “When life is too hard to live in one place, sometimes you give up and say, ‘I don’t do this anymore. But I don’t plan to do that. I want to stay, and I think most of the people on the island will stay… I don’t want to live anywhere else.”


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