Photos: Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Bay Foundation Forced to Leave Disappearing Island

It’s the end of an era for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF). After more than 40 years, student groups will no longer be able to stay overnight on a truly remote island in the middle of the Bay to learn about the environment.

CBF has announced it will close its residential environmental education center on Tangier Sound’s Great Fox Island for safety reasons at the conclusion of the fall field trip season. That’s because there just isn’t much left of the island.

Built in 1927 as a rod-and-gun club, the twelve-bedroom lodge on a marshy island has delighted and inspired tens of thousands of students, young and old, since the club’s members donated the remote property to the Foundation in the winter of 1976. 

Student groups can stay in the lodge, learn from curriculum-based “investigations,” and go out on the water for a field experience with the Bay Foundation, using its fleet of boats.

“It’s a rich Chesapeake experience,” remarked one veteran CBF educator, “surrounded by eelgrass beds, crabs, fish, and seabirds.” Unfortunately, however, sea level rise and erosion have claimed more than 70 per cent of the island’s land over that time.  “We’ve watched those changes with our own eyes,” he continued.   

“Letting it go is hard, for all of us,” explained Tom Ackerman, CBF’s Vice-President for Education in a recent blog post.  “The center’s closure illustrates the real and immediate threat climate change poses to the Chesapeake, especially to the island and coastal communities on the frontlines.  Sea levels in the Bay are rising at some of the fastest rates in the nation. Wildlife habitat and human infrastructure are in the path, but so too are the unique voices and experiences that exist only in these places.”  

CBF remains committed to Tangier Sound’s island communities and to educating many more students of all ages about their way of life, which depends on the health of the Bay.  The Foundation will strengthen the offerings at its other island education centers, to continue connecting people to these critical issues firsthand.

“Just as they did on Fox, students and teachers will have the opportunity to explore salt marshes, crab with local watermen, and experience the magic of island living,” Ackerman concluded. “We know they will continue to build invaluable and lasting connections to the Bay.”

-John Page Williams