As the Obama Administration works to secure a climate deal in Paris, members of Congress don’t have to go far to witness the real impacts of climate change. The historic Chesapeake Bay community located only 91 miles from Washington DC called Tangier Island may share the same fate as the Maldives. Only three miles long and one mile wide, Tangier Island has already suffered a tremendous loss of land over the past two centuries. The island’s land mass is only 33% of its size in 1850 and continues to shrink. According to a recent report from the US Army Corps of Engineers, if the current rate of sea level rise continues, Tangier Island will be uninhabitable within 50 years.

Tangier Island, Tangier Island sunset, Virginia Taylor, Virginia Taylor Tangier sunset

The western side of Tangier Island is losing land at a rate of 14 feet per year. While the eastern side is sinking more slowly, the entire island is at enormous risk of disappearing. “The whole island won’t be underwater but it will turn into marshland,” says report author David Schulte. “Tangier is only 1.2m above sea level now so a moderately severe sea level rise will put them in extreme jeopardy of storms and flooding.” Evolving Atlantic currents, melting glaciers, and eroding soil have converged on Tangier to produce an annual sea level rise twice that of the global average.

Related: Lessons from the Chesapeake Bay: how to save Buzzards Bay from nitrogen pollution

Originally summer campgrounds for the Pocomoke people, Tangier Island was settled by Europeans in 1686 and retains its colonial roots. “It’s one of the last true colonial places left in the US,” said Renée Tyler, Tangier’s town manager. “It’s not like Williamsburg, which is all fancied up. We don’t have people bringing money here to fancy us up. We are a proud, hardworking community.” Fishing has long supported the community, but it is becoming harder to succeed as costs rise and revenue remains flat.

Tangier Island, Tangier Island aerial, Neil Kaye, Neil Kaye Tangier Island, Swain Memorial Church Tangier Island

The Army Corps of Engineers says that it may take up to two years of work to build new seawalls, dune systems, and wider beaches that would protect the island. “It would cost around $20m to $30m,” says Schulte. “Hopefully Congress will look at this report and decide that this island is worth saving. A lot of people think sea level rise is something a long way off, but this is affecting people now.”

Via The Guardian

Images via Neil Kaye/Tangier History Museum and Virginia Taylor/ESVA.US