October 20, 2019; Capital Gazette
Sea levels are rising. We’ve heard it over and over again, and now a nonprofit education center in Chesapeake Bay has closed.
Fox Island Education Center is run by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Virginia. It helps connect learners to the outdoors. Students can see wildlife like crabs and birds in their natural habitat and learn about fragile ecosystems and sustainability initiatives like rebuilding oyster beds. The island also housed an education building with composting toilets, solar panels, and “gray water” to help teach students about how a green building works.
One high school senior, Anthony Okonkwo, wrote, “Pulling multiple eels, pufferfish, rays, and rockfish out of the water reminded me of how healthy the Bay can be and the future I’m fighting for.”
Unfortunately, Anthony and his peers will be the last children to learn about nature on Fox Island. Rising sea levels and increased erosion have reduced the salt marshes that protected the island in their center. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) estimates that more than 70 percent of the island has disappeared in the last 50 years. And so, on October 10th, the foundation declared that 2019 would be the last season of education on the island.
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“We believe it will inevitably become unsafe to continue operating the Fox Island center for students in the future,” wrote Tom Ackerman, CBF’s Vice President of Education.
“There are places on this earth—breathtaking locations—that make you think differently about your actions and your environment and the beauty of where you live,” said Karen Mullin, a foundation educator. “Fox is one of those places.”
The Chesapeake Bay sits in an overlap of several indigenous territories, including the Chesapeake, Accomack, and Kecoughtan.
The foundation runs educational programs on other islands, so this isn’t the end of their work. They have committed to speaking more about climate change and its impact on communities. Part of the foundation’s mission is protecting and restoring the bay and fighting for policies and public support to protect the environment.
But none of that will bring Fox Island back.—Erin Rubin