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Al Jazeera documentary tells tale of two eroding Alaska villages

  • Author: Alaska News
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published December 18, 2015

The Alaska coastal villages of Kivalina and Newtok, under threat from erosion, are the subject of an Al Jazeera America documentary scheduled to air on Sunday.

The 30-minute episode, titled "When the Water Took the Land," is part of the network's in-depth news program Fault Lines. The episode is the work of a team of journalists, led by Alaska Public Radio Network veteran Libby Casey, who traveled to the northwest Alaska villages.

The documentary explores the situation in the two villages, where committees are working on plans to relocate to more stable ground but facing funding and logistical challenges. It also delves into the science behind the accelerated erosion in a region where a warming climate has weakened the sea ice that used to block waves and storm surges and softened the once-solid permafrost that lines the coast.

In the program, villagers attest to the changes.

"Those were good days, when the ice formed to 30 feet thick solid ice and you trust that you're safe on the ice," Millie Hawley, Kivalina's tribal president, says in a program trailer. "Things are just not the same anymore."

Inupiaq whaling captain Replogle Swan of Kivalina told Fault Lines reporters that normally his crew camps out on the ice during the hunting season. "The ice has been receding so bad, we've been only out there for a week or two. Twenty years ago, we were out there at least a month by now."

"We've always lived on the land, the sea and the air. It's what we grew up on -- the caribou, the fish, the ducks, the whales," said Swan.

"When the Water Took the Land" is scheduled to air on the Al Jazeera America on Sunday, Dec. 20, at 9 p.m. Eastern time and again on Tuesday, Dec. 22, at 6 p.m. Eastern time, the news organization said.