Perched on an island at the very edge of Alaska, Shishmaref has become a symbol of global warming. For the past ten years, this village has been collapsing. With the melting of the ice caps, water levels are rising, and gradually the sea is eating away at the coast. It's a nightmare for 600 Eskimos who live here. If nothing is done, Shishmaref could soon be wiped off the map, and its 4,000-year-old Inuit culture could disappear. Our reporters went to find out more.
The nearest town from Shishmaref is one hour away by plane. Alighting from the small propeller plane, we discover an almost abandoned village. Encircled by the Chukchi Sea and the icy winds of the North Pole, we feel as if we have arrived in a ghost town. During the few hours of daylight, we see silhouettes astride roaring quad bikes. The island is just two kilometres long and 500 metres wide.
It is November, but there is very little snow and the ice floe has not formed yet. Abandoned remains of snowmobiles are strewn around the houses. There is no running water or gas. The residents are mainly self-subsistent, in the Inuit tradition. In Shishmaref, a hunter knows how to fish, and vice versa.
But for the past several years, the lives of these Eskimos have been turned upside down. Global warming has completely disrupted the cycles of nature. As a result, we are at the beginning of winter and the inhabitants are hunting seals on the lagoon, instead of fishing under the ice.
With the rise in temperatures, storms are more frequent, the ice is melting, water levels are rising and waves are eating away at the permafrost, the mixture of sand and ice on which Shishmaref is built. Twenty houses have already been swallowed up. The erosion means the island is shrinking by almost 20 metres every year.