A coastal village in Alaska has voted to relocate amid the threat of rising sea levels in their area, city council officials have announced.
The native community of Shishmaref — which consists of 600 people, almost all of whom are Inupiat Inuit — welcomed votes from tribal and non-tribal residents to decide on the relocation.
City council officials say the community has chosen to relocate rather than remain in place with extra security measures against rising waters. According to National Public Radio, the unofficial count say that 94 votes favored moving while 78 votes favored remaining in place.
The council is set to discuss the options of where the village will relocate. A previous feasibility study evaluated four possible sites, but Council Secretary Donna Burr says the options have now been narrowed down to two.
To Stay Or To Move
Shishmaref is currently situated on a tiny island north of the Bering Strait that separates Russia and the United States. Statistics from Auburn University in Alabama and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reveal that the tiny island is losing up to 3 meters (10 feet) of shoreline every year.
Along with others, the mayor of Shishmaref has voted to stay at their current place, arguing that it is the most cost-effective.
Jane Stevenson, tribal coordinator, is also leaning toward remaining because the site is closer to subsistence food sources.
On the other hand, Burr and Arctic Youth ambassador Esau Sinnok, a native from Shishmaref, both support relocating.
Sinnok wrote in a blog post that the island has lost about 762 to 914 meters (2,500 to 3,000 feet) of land due to coastal erosion over the past 35 years. He recalled that his family has moved 13 houses in just 15 years, from one end of the island to other all because of the loss of land.
Unfortunately, Shishmaref is one the 31 indigenous Alaskan villages that currently face increasing threats of erosion and flooding due to climate change, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported.
Wednesday’s decision is not the first time the Shishmaref village has decided to relocate. In 2002, the community opted to move due to shoreline erosion and climate change, but efforts had been stalled because of lack of federal funds.
The country’s Interior department allocated $8 million for all tribes seeking relocation, but it’s $192 million short of the estimated $200 million fund the village needs to relocate.
Burr says Wednesday’s vote still needs to be certified. And because of the lack of federal and state funding, the Shishmaref village will have to find resources to move.
“It’s not going to happen in our lifetimes,” says Burr. “We just want to take the right steps forward for our children.”