Going Under: The story of Tangier Island, Va.


TANGIER, Va. — Tangier Island, Virginia … population 460 (and shrinking).

It’s a quirky, isolated place located smack dab in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. Residents drive golf carts and speak their own dialect, while visitors must travel by boat or plane to get there. But the island is vanishing.

The reason why depends who you ask. But the fact is, it could become uninhabitable in as little as 25 years, wiping an entire community and way of life off the planet. Should the island be saved … and at what cost? It’s a question that has received attention from the highest rungs of power — including The White House.

In this five-part podcast series, WTOP reporter Michelle Basch travels to Tangier to meet the people who call it home and find out what’s really happening.

Listen to the podcasts below or on iTunes and Podcast One.

EPISODE 1: WELCOME TO TANGIER ISLAND

EPISODE 2: CALL ME OOKER

EPISODE 3: CRABS, CATS, RELIGION AND HOPE

EPISODE 4: TRUMP IS TOPS ON TANGIER

EPISODE 5: SHOULD TANGIER BE SAVED?


Take a tour of Tangier Island via the interactive map at the top of this page and see more sights and sounds in the gallery below.

High tide combined with a cold front created higher-than-usual flooding in front of a restaurant and the island’s single grocery store. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
This bridge just west of Tangier Combined School leads from the island’s Main Ridge to the West Ridge. When this photo was taken, flooding was worse than usual on the island, but high water is a regular problem on the island. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
A gravestone lies flat on a beach on the north shore of Uppards. It once stood in a graveyard in Canaan, a town that’s now underwater. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
The yards of homes on Tangier Island are typically small, but some contain graves of family members. This yard had many. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Visitors may find it strange to see graves outside of cemeteries, but this sign explains their practicality. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Allen and Joan Parks stand in front of their home on Canton Ridge, the section of the island furthest to the east. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)   PHOTOS | The people of Tangier Island (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
A photo taken by Joan Parks of flooding at their Canton Ridge home in 2003 caused by Hurricane Isabel. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Despite what this sign says, author Earl Swift writes in his recently published book "Chesapeake Requiem" that the first confirmed white settlers didn't arrive on Tangier Island until 1778. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Despite what this sign says, author Earl Swift writes in his recently published book “Chesapeake Requiem” that the first confirmed white settlers didn’t arrive on Tangier Island until 1778. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Tangier Island is known as the soft shell crab capital of the world, and its watermen catch more blue crabs than those in any other town around the Chesapeake Bay. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)   PHOTOS | Tangier Island: A visitor’s glance (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
The Courtney Thomas, better known as the “mailboat,” travels regularly between Tangier Island, Virginia, and Crisfield, Maryland. It’s the boat most locals use to get to the mainland where they go shopping, see doctors and visit relatives. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)   PHOTOS | Life on the Island (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Many Tangier Island residents go shopping in Crisfield, and then haul their stuff back to the island aboard the Courtney Thomas. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
The indoor seating area of the Courtney Thomas. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
The indoor seating area of the Courtney Thomas. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Main Ridge Road in Tangier is the island’s “main drag.” (WTOP/Michelle Basch)   PHOTOS | Life on the Island (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
This is where WTOP Reporter Michelle Basch stayed while visiting Tangier, at Hilda Crockett’s Chesapeake House. A second house across the street that’s part of the same bed and breakfast includes large dining rooms, where guests and visitors enjoy all-you-can-eat meals. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) PHOTOS | Tangier Island: A visitor’s glance (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
The common area downstairs at Hilda Crockett’s Chesapeake House. The bed and breakfast’s main house across the street has more rooms, as well as large dining rooms. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Hilda Crockett’s Chesapeake House is up for sale. Asking price: $299,000. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Basch’s room at Hilda Crockett’s Chesapeake House, a comfy bed and breakfast. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
The main part of Hilda Crockett’s Chesapeake House, which includes the restaurant.(WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
One of the dining rooms at Hilda Crockett’s Chesapeake House, known for family-style, all-you-can-eat meals. Lunch or dinner includes homemade crabcakes, fried clam fritters, Virginia baked ham, and a homemade pound cake you should save room for! (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
You see homes of all kinds on Tangier Island. Some are well kept, others look run down, and a few are clearly vacant. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Tangier’s tallest landmark, its water tower, stands not far from a cemetery. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Tangier’s water tower is painted with both a crab and a cross. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Tangier Island has many stray cats. Take a walk and you’ll likely see at least one. These two appeared to be buddies. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Lorraine’s Seafood Restaurant is a tasty place on the island to eat. It gets rave reviews for its crab dishes! (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
You can't go wrong with the cream of crab soup at Lorriane's seafood restaurant on Tangier. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
You can’t go wrong with the cream of crab soup at Lorriane’s seafood restaurant on Tangier. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Fisherman’s Corner Restaurant is co-owned by Irene Eskridge, the wife of Tangier Island’s Mayor James “Ooker” Eskridge. The Mayor, a waterman, supplies the place with fresh seafood. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Tangier Island may be tiny, but it does have a post office! (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
The history museum is a great place to get better acquainted with Tangier Island’s past. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
New Testament Church, one of two churches on the island, is nondenominational. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
In addition to his role as an elder at New Testament Church, Duane Crockett is a social studies and English teacher at Tangier Combined School. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Swain Memorial United Methodist Church is the second tallest landmark on the island, topped only by its water tower. The mayor calls Tangier “a spiritual island.” (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
At Swain Memorial United Methodist Church, the size of the congregation on this Sunday was small — about 35 people. About the same number attended morning services on the same day at the island’s other church, New Testament. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Pastor Nona Allen uses a wireless microphone and makes sure to walk around and down the aisles during a Sunday service at Swain Memorial United Methodist Church. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
A grand stained glass window and art deco style light fixtures inside Swain Memorial United Methodist Church. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Tangier Island has a long history of Methodism. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
The land where Fort Albion once stood no longer exists. It’s been lost under the waves as Tangier Island shrinks. Thankfully, this historic marker stands to tell the fort’s story. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Ooker guides his boat near the shore of Uppards.  It's a section of land that used to be connected to the rest of Tangier Island, but today is separated by water. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
James Eskridge is the Mayor of Tangier Island, but everyone who knows him just calls him by his nickname since childhood: “Ooker.” First and foremost, he’s a waterman. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
One of two Trump flags Mayor James “Ooker” Eskridge flies from his boat, the Sreedevi. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
A gravestone lies flat on a beach on the north shore of Uppards. It once stood in a graveyard in Canaan, a town that's now underwater. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
A gravestone lies flat on a beach on the north shore of Uppards. It once stood in a graveyard in Canaan, a town that’s now underwater. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
It looks like someone has moved the gravestone of Margaret A. Pruitt, propping it up on oyster shells a short distance from the waterline on Uppards. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
These are Ooker’s shedding tanks. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
A sign on the side of one of Ooker’s shedding tanks. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Two of Ooker’s four cats, who live at his crab shanty. Their names are Sam Alito, Ann Coulter, Condi Rice and John Roberts. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Political signs mingle with signs aimed at tourists on Tangier Island. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
The current Tangier Combined School building was completed in 1998, but in 2006, drastic measures were taken to protect it from flooding. It was lifted 5 feet and placed on stilts. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Tangier Combined School is Virginia’s only public K-12 combined school. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
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Despite what this sign says, author Earl Swift writes in his recently published book "Chesapeake Requiem" that the first confirmed white settlers didn't arrive on Tangier Island until 1778. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
The indoor seating area of the Courtney Thomas. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
You can't go wrong with the cream of crab soup at Lorriane's seafood restaurant on Tangier. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Ooker guides his boat near the shore of Uppards.  It's a section of land that used to be connected to the rest of Tangier Island, but today is separated by water. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
A gravestone lies flat on a beach on the north shore of Uppards. It once stood in a graveyard in Canaan, a town that's now underwater. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)

Looking for more photos of life on Tangier Island? Explore additional photo galleries below.


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