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Welcome to Shismaref: Facts About the Alaskan Village Forced to Relocate Due to Climate Change

Aug 19, 2016 04:46 AM EDT
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Climate change is affecting a lot of people, but the residents of western Alaskan village Shishmaref might actually have to leave their home because of the rapidly rising sea level. Find out more about this small Alaskan village that's on the verge of displacement.

The village is on the frontlines of the battle against climate change. Roughly 130 miles north of Nome on the Chukchi Sea, Shishmaref is a barrier island that has seen rising ocean level and ice-free months causing erosion, according to a report from Fusion. There has already been more than a dozen homes relocated. Sea walls towering to about 15 feet were built to protect the village, but it might not be enough and the people are afraid the island will eventually be submerged in the coming decades.

"To put this in perspective: I was born in 1997, and since then, Shishmaref has lost about 100 feet," Esau Sinnok, a 19-year-old climate activist from the village, explained in a report from Telegraph. "In the past 15 years, we had to move 13 houses - including my dear grandma Edna's house - from one end of the island to the other because of this loss of land. Within the next two decades, the whole island will erode away completely."

The livelihood and lifestyle of the citizens have been affected drastically in the face of the rising seas and warming temperatures. Sinnok told Fusion that their winter diet suffered because the ice surrounding the island used to freeze in October. Now, it's not safe to go out into the ice until November or December. Fishing, hunting seals for meat and oil, and gathering plants are also some of the activities of Shishmaref that have felt the impact of global warming.

Shishmaref is considering relocation to the mainland. Because of the threats to their lives, the village is set to vote on whether to relocate or not on Aug. 16.

Not everyone is on board with the move. It's not an easy decision to make for anyone, not least because of the money that's needed to relocate: costs are estimated to reach almost $200 million.

Johnson Eningowuk, president of the Shishmaref City Council, adds, "It's hard to stay alive here, to stay alive off of the ocean." Then he said that they are happy and used to their lifestyle, so there are those reluctant to move.

Sinnok is one of the country's brightest youths and a vocal champion in the fight against climate change. Last July, he was recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change for Climate Equity, according to The Nome Nugget.

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