Aerial view of Tangier Island (WAVY Photo/Tom Schaad)

MA - Special Report: The fight to save Tangier Island, a cultural gem in the Chesapeake Bay

TANGIER ISLAND, Va. (WAVY) — Legendary oceanographer and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau once said “we forget the water cycle and the life cycle are one.”

Those two forces collide when describing the fate of a shrinking fishing village 14 miles from the Eastern Shore — one of the last of its kind in the Chesapeake Bay. Erosion and sea level rise have already swallowed two-thirds of Tangier Island since 1850, leaving little time to save a way of life.

The Rising Tide

This one square mile patch of the past is known by the bounty of its encroaching waters.

“Tangier has the title of soft crab capital of the world,” said Mayor James “Ooker” Eskridge, who mostly blames erosion for the loss of land over the decades, downplaying the effects of rising seas from climate change.

“I know we get storms,” Eskridge said. “It looks bad. We’re still losing land to erosion, all that’s goin’ on. Do not lose hope. I believe we’ll get the help we need to save the island.”

Those efforts began decades ago when the US Army Corps of Engineers built a 5,700 foot-long seawall on the island’s west side.

“And it’s working,” Eskridge said. “They did a section of it in 1989 and we were losing 25 more feet a year, and since ’89, we haven’t lost an inch. So it works.”

Federal funds helped construct a jetty near the harbor, and Eskridge still talks about a 2017 phone call that came from the White House telling him and the 400-plus residents here not to worry.

“Since the phone call with the President Donald Trump, we’ve had media here from 43 countries now,” Eskridge said.

The island draws tourists, who note the quiet air of another world.

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