(NEW YORK) — The tiny village of Shishmaref, Alaska, will find out today if everyone in the village will be moving to the mainland.
The village, located on Sarichef Island, off the Western coast of Alaska, is home to a small Inupiat Eskimo community. Locals held a special election Tuesday over whether to relocate or stay put as rising sea levels have significantly eroded the land.
“The island, wow, it’s smaller,” Jane Stevenson, who was born and raised in the village, told ABC News. “We used to have a beach and now we don’t have a beach, because we lost a lot of land. Growing up we used to play at the beach. I moved out of Shishmaref in 1998 and I lived out of here for 10 years, then moved back in 2010, and was amazed at how much beach and land we lost in that time.”
Stevenson, who works as the tribal coordinator for the Native Village of Shishmaref, said she was against the relocation plan even though climate change has dramatically impacted her homeland.
“I really like the location where we’re at, especially for our subsistence,” she said, adding that her family enjoys hunting and fishing in the ocean. She said she was worried that moving to the mainland would be very expensive because of the cost of gas to go hunting.
The State of Alaska Immediate Action Workgroup included Shishmaref in the six top-priority communities that were imminently threatened by the impacts of climate change.
“The entire community is susceptible to erosion, and the underlying permafrost is melting. Erosion has undermined buildings and infrastructure, causing several structures to collapse and fall into the sea,” the Alaska state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development wrote on its website about Shishmaref.
The state agency added that the community has moved houses and other structures further from the shoreline, but increasingly has “less and less space to do so.”
The current population of the village is 574, Sally Russell Cox, who works for Alaska’s Division of Community and Regional Affairs, told ABC News.
Cox said the village largely maintains a traditional subsistence lifestyle and that employment in the village is mostly government-based, with residents working for the city, the tribe or the Bering Straight School District.
Nearly a third of the population (29.2 percent) lives below the poverty line, according to Cox.
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