"It’s the kind of choice that climate change will be forcing over and over."
"It was a few minutes before noon on Tangier Island in Virginia, just about high tide, when David Schulte pushed the toe of his red sneaker into Marilyn Pruitt’s soggy backyard. Schulte, a marine biologist with the United States Army Corps of Engineers, frowned, withdrew his foot, found another spot nearby and pressed his toe down again. His sneaker sank into the ground, and water pooled around it. 'It’s like that all the time,' Pruitt called out from her back porch. 'It doesn’t dry out anymore.'
Schulte looked up at Pruitt, then crouched down to look closer. There were small holes in the ground, spaced about six inches apart, filled with clear water. 'Fiddler crabs,' he said. He stood up, turned and walked to the periphery of Pruitt’s property, where the yard was rimmed by a thicket of wild, knee-high spartina grasses, matted by wind and salt spray. As I followed Schulte, it felt as if we were walking on a sponge. Every step squished and slurped. 'This isn’t even a yard anymore,' Schulte told me. 'I mean, it’s technically more like a marsh, a wetland.'
From where we stood, a few hundred feet from the shoreline, the view was postcard-perfect. White fishing boats dotted the Chesapeake Bay under a hazy March sky; the eastern shore of Maryland formed a dark, distant stripe on the horizon some 14 miles away. 'Sometimes I think we were crazy to build a house out here,' Pruitt told me earlier. 'But I guess there are worse places to get stuck.' The real estate market was stalled, she meant, and her family had been unable to sell the property. But it was also the case that she built the house in a place where the bay was steadily advancing on her backyard every year, usually by about a dozen feet. In bad times — when a nor’easter stormed through, say — great chunks of Tangier were torn off. But even in calmer conditions, the losses were steady and seemingly unstoppable. Week by week, wave by wave, grain by grain, Tangier was washing away."