Forced to Reckon with Rising Seas, Alaskan Village Votes on Relocation


Residents of Shishmaref voted reportedly voted 89 to 78 to leave.


Residents of a remote Alaskan village will find out Wednesday if they are to become the first American community to become climate refugees.

Rapidly rising sea levels are forcing the 650-person village of Shishmaref, which lies just north of the Bering Strait, to consider relocating. Residents voted Tuesday and the city clerk said that results will be announced Wednesday.

As for where they will go, the community will decide later at a town meeting. The move is estimated to cost $180 million.

“The sea ice used to protect Shishmaref, which is built on a barrier island and largely inhabited by members of the Inupiat Inuit tribe,” wrote the Guardian. “But now that the ice is melting, the village is in peril from encroaching waves, especially as the permafrost on which it is built is thawing, and crumbling beneath the mostly prefabricated houses. Barricades and sea walls have had little effect.”

Shishmaref is just one of four Alaskan villages identified by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2003 of being in “imminent danger from flooding and erosion and…planning to relocate.” Since then, dozens more communities have been added to the list.

But as Robin Bronen, a senior research scientist with The Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska, recently explained to Yale 360, there is currently no funding or government institution set up to help facilitate such relocations.