Photo Essay

Waiting to Move

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The village of Shishmaref, inhabited for 400 years, is located on a small barrier island in the Chukchi Sea in northwestern Alaska. Home to a modern Inupiaq community, Shishmaref is on the front lines of climate change. The island, approximately a quarter mile wide and 3 miles in length, is facing evacuation due to erosion, increasingly powerful storms, and the thawing of permafrost. To feed their families, residents rely on a lifestyle of subsistence hunting, fishing, and gathering.

The village suffers from a growing generational divide. Younger members of the community dream of leaving the island in search of jobs and a new life; they would leave behind centuries-old traditions. In 2002, the island's inhabitants voted to move the community to the mainland, officially making them the world's first climate refugees. As of 2016, very little progress has been made and the government has yet to provide the necessary funds to relocate the village.

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