A way of life is endangered as rising sea levels threaten Kent Island and other Maryland’s coasts
By Holly Haber
Wayne Williams wakes up to the sound of his 3 a.m. alarm and breathes in the fresh Chesapeake Bay air, sips his coffee, listens to the geese fly over as cars rush up and down Route 8. He begins to prepare for the day, loading traps, baiting his line, filling his boat’s tank with gas.
This is Wayne’s world. Kent Island. Chesapeake Bay. Maryland.
He starts each and every single one of his days like this, minus Sundays. He fears that one day this might not be a possibility for him any more — not because he’s growing older, but because Kent Island is going underwater.
Kent Island is a 4.2-mile wide and 15-mile long flat island that rests in the Chesapeake Bay. It is home to watermen; small-business owners; commuters to Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington; students and others. It’s also home to tourist traps, 55-and-older communities and seafood restaurants on nearly every corner.
But for how long? Rising sea levels could bury Kent Island in a few short years.
Some consider this place an escape from the hustle and bustle. Visitors must access this island through either The Chesapeake Bay Bridge or The Kent Narrows Bridge and once you’re on it, you are on Island time. The Island is becoming overpopulated, dirty, and is sinking quicker than some may think.
The questions are:
- “How long do Kent Islanders have until they’re under water?” and
- “What can they do to prevent this?”
Kent Island is known to be a family town, there are playgrounds everywhere and lots of people purposely choose to raise their kids here.
“The island used to be peaceful as I remember as a kid,” Claudia Schultz, 21, said. “But as time has passed the beaches are crowded, we are stuck because of traffic, and is slowly withering away.”
Schultz has lived here since she was born and she seemed to be disappointed about the state of the Island these days. She utilizes local parks and beaches, her favorite she said is Terrapin Park in Stevensville but said “it’s not even worth it to go until the sun is setting.”
Terrapin Park becomes swamped with tourists and there has been local talk of enforcing Queen Anne County Resident Parking only due to the amount of out of county visitors. This not only comes with parking problems but the parks reek of cigarettes and other substances, the grasses and weeds are tangled with trash, and the water washes up god knows what on a daily basis.
Kent Island resident Molly Connelly, 21, fears climate change.
“Nobody wants to think that it can happen to them, but it will,” Connelly said. “None of us are safe from the deadly disasters of climate change, and especially not those of us living on a small and flat island. It’s heartbreaking to think that our home of Kent Island will most likely be underwater in 50 years, but it’s the price we humans must pay for all the damage we have caused.”
Climate change is an issue that is not only affecting Kent Island, but the Islanders have been making efforts to keep their island environmentally friendly. Schultz and Connelly both have participated in multiple beach cleanups through Kent Island Beach Cleanups (KIBCU). They have cleaned up beaches in the area such as Matapeake Beach, Hemingway’s Beach, Terrapin Beach, and Ferry Point Park.
There are so many factors to think about when discussing Kent Island’s stability. Although many tend to think of the future, things are happening now. “Waterfront properties are losing land causing the property values to fall,” said Real Estate Agent Maddie Little, 21. Little just got involved in the Real Estate industry a few months ago and her focus is properties on Kent Island and the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
This is something that never crossed her mind when joining this field in this specific town. Although Kent Island homes are in high demand due to their location and proximity to hot spots, Little said, “some houses are not able to be built in certain areas that future home owners are wanting, this overall is making the inventory quite low.”
Watermen like Wayne Williams, resident of Denton Maryland, brings in income for their family with this occupation and due to this environment and this habitat to many different species it is quite a concern. This occupation is already hard enough, early mornings, long days, and a keen eye. Although it is not easy Wayne Williams thinks it is worth every second, Watermen are some of the most underrated hard workers there are to exist.
“This is where I make my money, this place is my livelihood. I would of course hate to watch it wither away but I think it has more time than we think,” said Williams, 52. “Without Kent Island a lot of my fellow watermen would lose their homes and lose their businesses that have been passed down for generations. I watch the crab population every year get less and less which is concerning and bad for business and I don’t like to raise prices on my customers but this forces me to.” Crab population is yet another one of the many concerns that is occurring on Kent Island, prices rise while catch limits become smaller and smaller over time.
This is not only a locals spot, many do find this to be a getaway. At Stevenson University some students escape on the weekend, like Kevin Sheehan, 22.
“Kent Island is a great place to go during the summer and a great place to get away on weekends during the school year,” Sheehan said. “There’s always something to do like going to the local beach, playing pickleball at the local court, or getting ice cream at the local creamery. Kent Island is a place where I feel welcomed and warm. Kent island is truly my home away from home.”
This is a place that is near and dear to many people’s hearts and the thought of it disappearing is quite heavy.
Rising sea levels are of course not only affecting Kent Island, but many other surrounding areas and areas around the world. In 2017, an article in The Washingtonian magazine sounded the alarm.
“By 2080, the effect would reach Kent Island and other towns across the Chesapeake Bay from Annapolis; and by the end of the century Ocean City and many other beach communities would see regular floods that knock out up to 100 percent of their usable land,” author Benjamin Freed wrote.
Islanders cannot wrap their minds around the fact that in 50 years they could be dragging their feet through water to get their mail on this precious Island. This does not seem fair and changes need to be made, but what changes can be made? Maybe there is a chance, maybe we have more time than we think with Kent Island, but something must change.
Climate change is everywhere, not just on Kent Island, being eco-friendly can never hurt, picking up that bag floating across the parking lot can never hurt, and saving energy is good. Make a difference so people can continue to enjoy a sit down meal at The Jetty or a walk on the Cross Island Trail. Kent Island deserves a change, things must slow down for this slow town.