Tangier Island: The story and the people

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

The island is vanishing, but the reason why depends on who you ask. The fact remains: It could become inhabitable in as little as 25 years.

In a 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.

The gallery below shows the people and the story of the island: the culture, the mayor and the residents.

Listen to the podcasts on our website or on iTunes and Podcast One.



Political signs mingle with signs aimed at tourists on Tangier Island.

Allen and Joan Parks stand in front of their home on Canton Ridge, the section of the island furthest to the east.

A photo taken by Joan Parks of flooding at their Canton Ridge home in 2003 caused by Hurricane Isabel.

Residents leaving Memorial United Methodist Church wade through water to get to their golf carts. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) MORE PHOTOS: Life on Tangier Island (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
New Testament Church, one of two churches on the island, is non-denominational.

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.

Duane Crockett, a church elder at New Testament Church, delivers a sermon. The church is one of two places of worship on Tangier Island, Virginia. (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.”

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.

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.

A grand stained glass window and art deco style light fixtures inside Swain Memorial United Methodist Church.

Tangier Island has a long history of Methodism.

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.

One of two Trump flags Mayor James “Ooker” Eskridge flies from his boat, the Sreedevi.

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.

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.

“Peelers,” or hard crabs, stay in one of Ooker’s shedding tanks. The crabs are left here until they shed and become softshells. That’s when Ooker sells them. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
These are Ooker’s shedding tanks.

A sign on the side of one of Ooker’s shedding tanks.

Tangier Island Mayor James Eskridge is a commercial crabber who’s been working on the water full-time since graduating from high school in 1976. Everyone calls him Ooker. “I get up at 2:30 sometimes 3 o’clock,” Eskridge says. “You have to get out here fairly early to get the soft crabs out of the water so they don’t get hard and try to be crabbing by daybreak.” (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
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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)

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Local News | Virginia News

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