Smith Island

Quiet. There was no noise in the warm October air. In such a foreign place, it was strange to feel so at home. Looking up at the night sky, I counted nine different shooting stars that blazed across the sky. It was peaceful, and I was content. And yet, I hadn’t even been on the island for 24 hours or long enough to even have the emotional connection I felt with it.

Smith Island is one of the last remaining inhabited islands in the Chesapeake Bay. Once a population of approximately 800 people, now the 200 individuals who have stayed on the island are essentially battling against natures clock. The island faces problems such as erosion and sea level ride that threaten to hide the island forever.

The community of Smith Island was so welcoming to the Chesapeake Semester gang that it was almost unreal. Everyone greeted us with a smile and did not seem to mind the obnoxious cameras we all lugged around with us. While at the island, we were able to meet a few key community members such as a crab picker, a pastor, and church members who enlightened us about their way of life on the island. The community members appeared to be easy going. They were simple people with simple stories but all had one major aspect in common… They were proud to be a Smith Islander and were worried about the outcome of their beloved home.

As environmental scientists, Chesapeake Semester went to Smith Island knowing about the environmental problems at hand. It was interesting to seek insight as to what the locals believed was in store for their island. We learned that one of the main problems for Smith Island was erosion, especially from the boat wakes the locals make in their own channels. The boat wakes create a wave that flows towards, and crashes on, the banks of the island. This repeated motion causes the island to erode, and after time, this has become a serious issue. Secondly, the island, as well as the world, faces problems with sea level rise. With this island only being a few miles, there isn’t much land and there isn’t much elevation. Eventually, sea level rise could cause the locals to leave their island as it may become inhabitable.

Why then, did I feel such an emotional attachment to a place that I have just been introduced with? Maybe the severity of people losing their homes and their culture struck a cord in me. Maybe the notion of sea level rise became all too real for me. The one night we were on Smith Island, Anna, Riley, and I rode our bikes as far as we could on this island. Once we came to the islands edge, we stopped and proceeded to have a life talk. It was as if the island and nature and the stars were just pulling the thoughts from our minds. Calm, content, and appreciative, the three of us were happy for the experience we received that night. Feeling so attached to a culture we were just introduced to, does not come as often as one may think.

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