My small turboprop plane whirred low through thick clouds. Below me, St. Paul Island cut a golden, angular shape in the shadow-dark Bering Sea. I saw a lone island village — a grid of houses, a small harbor, and a road that followed a black ribbon of coast.
Some 330 people, most of them Indigenous, live in the village of St. Paul, about 800 miles west of Anchorage, where the local economy depends almost entirely on the commercial snow crab business. Over the last few years, 10 billion snow crabs have unexpectedly vanished from the Bering Sea. I was traveling there to find out what the villagers might do next.
The arc of St. Paul’s recent story has become a familiar one — so familiar, in fact, I couldn’t blame you if you missed it. Alaska news is full of climate elegies now — every one linked to wrenching changes caused by burning fossil fuels. I grew up in Alaska, as my parents did before me, and I’ve been writing about the state’s culture for more than 20 years. Some Alaskans’ connections go far deeper than mine. Alaska Native people have inhabited this place for more than 10,000 years.
As I’ve reported in Indigenous communities, people remind me that my sense of history is short and that the natural world moves in cycles. People in Alaska have always had to adapt.
Even so, in the last few years, I’ve seen disruptions to economies and food systems, as well as fires, floods, landslides, storms, coastal erosion, and changes to river ice — all escalating at a pace that’s hard to process. Increasingly, my stories veer from science and economics into the fundamental ability of Alaskans to keep living in rural places.
This story was produced in collaboration with the Food and Environmental Reporting Network and my research into climate and food is supported by Anchorage Museum. This story was republished by Anchorage Daily News, Wired and Apple News.