The Dig

The Dig

Tom Horton - Smith Island

To some, a series of small, inhabited islands in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay have become emblematic of larger environmental shifts. To Tom Horton, Smith Island has poignantly illustrated the social and cultural changes tied to these shifts for the last several decades.

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Horton, who reported on environmental issues throughout Maryland at the Baltimore Sun for over 30 years, first became acquainted with Smith Island in 1978. He eventually relocated there with his family to work at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and has since written a book and made a film about the place.

Well-informed about sea level rise, Horton has turned his attention to the human changes this island is facing. The most “imminent threat” to Smith, he says, is depopulation. According to Horton, generational shifts in lifestyle choices, and the decline of the crabbing industry both contribute to the dwindling number of island residents.

Smith Island has grown dear to Tom Horton, and he hopes the island can keep going for a few more generations. Investing in tourism, jetties to slow erosion, and attracting retirees are all measures Horton hopes the island’s residents can advocate for. Help, he says, will have to come from the outside.

Tom Horton - Smith Island