It’s a Wednesday morning in late August, the first day of classes at the Shishmaref School. The doors of the pale blue building haven’t opened yet, and the new principal is hurriedly buttering toast in the kitchen for the students’ breakfasts. Teachers are scrambling to make last-minute adjustments to their classrooms, while anxious kids, ranging from pre-K students through high schoolers, wait on the porch, their jackets zipped against the chill of the early-morning air. It’s all so incredibly normal, you might not know that, just a few years ago, no one thought Shishmaref would be here anymore.
The remote village of 563 people is located 30 miles south of the Arctic Circle, flanked by the Chukchi Sea to the north and an inlet to the south, and it sits atop rapidly melting permafrost. In the last decades, the island’s shores have been eroding into the sea, falling off in giant chunks whenever a big storm hits.