In the 200 native coastal communities in Alaska, varying degrees of erosion are affecting around 180 of them, according to the federal government’s General Accounting Office.
As early as the 1950s, Kivalina’s elders noticed signs of erosion, which was worsened by the impact of major storms in 1970, 1976 and 2004. In 2007, a severe forecast forced the island’s inhabitants to evacuate.
Since 1952, Kivalina has lost more than 19 acres, with an average loss of 10 to 35 feet along the Chukchi coastline, according to a 2004 National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration study. Meanwhile, its population has doubled since the 1970s.
Many Kivalina residents have left the island simply because there isn’t enough space. Beginning in the 1990s, community leaders agreed on the need to relocate. After the 2004 storm, during which residents risked their lives sandbagging the shoreline to stop houses from dropping into the sea, relocating went from being considered an option to an immediate necessity.
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