Tubman Underwater? Climate Change Puts National Monuments At Risk

Photo courtesy Linda Davidson/THE WASHINGTON POST

Photo courtesy Linda Davidson/THE WASHINGTON POST

This post is an audio piece. The transcript can be found below.

TRANSCRIPT (02:32): 

Narration: On March 25, 2013, a swath of land was designated to honor Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.  Tubman’s birthplace and now part of a national park, it’s tucked among 25,000 acres of the eastern shore of Maryland.

Cherie Butler: The national monument is landscape that is significant to Tubman’s early years.

Narration: That’s Cherie Butler, the current Superintendent of the park.


Cherie: But there’s no statue, there’s actually no structures.  Basically landscape and it probably looks a lot like it would’ve looked when Tubman was living there.


Narration: But while the location may be beautiful, it’s also at risk.  Cherie is concerned about a new climate change report released from the Union of Concerned Scientists that says her park, might soon be under water.

According to a survey by the United States Geological Survey, if sea levels keep rising the way they have, the Chesapeake Bay could be underwater by 2050.

Mary Foley: We’re really very concerned about nationally significant sites that are in coastal environments.

This is Mary Foley, the New England Regional Chief Scientist for the National Park System.


Mary: Looking at the projections of sea level rise over the next fifty to one hundred years, certainly gives us a cause for great concern.


Narration: Climate change has led to increased risks for reserves on the shore.

Mary: We expect to see higher tides, greater flooding events.

Narration: The mitigation at this stage is tricky.  One new development at the Harriet Tubman site will construct the visitor center on a high plot of ground.  At other parks, lighthouses have been physically moved further upshore after eroding coasts left them at bay.

Mary: Sites have looked at sea walls and revetments.  But all of those have side effects.  When you build a revetment or sea wall, it changes the ecological dynamic.

Narration: There’s also the financial side effect.  Jim Dunphy, a facility manager at Fire Island in New York noted that sandbags and other solutions still cost money.

Both he and Mary agree that until further research is done and new solutions are offered, it’s just  a waiting game.


Jim: I think we’re just sort of watching and biding our time knowing that at some point it could all disappear.

Mary: 2050 seems like a long way off, but it really isn’t.   


Narration: This piece was produced by Alison Bruzek for The Raptor Lab.  Learn more at theraptorlab.com.

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