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Northumberland Team Eco visits with crew of Hôkûle’a on Tangier Island

A team of 14 sixth-graders trying to help raise awareness about Tangier Island’s struggle with climate change traveled to the island in May to meet with Tangier’s sixth graders and the crew of the Polynesian Hōkūleʻa that is circumnavigating the globe.

The Northumberland Middle School Community Problem Solving Team Eco is learning about the island’s problems with sea-level rise, erosion and subsidence and to help raise funds for a living shoreline that would allow Tangiermen more time on their island or to use the money to leave if it becomes necessary.

The Hōkūleʻa, operated by volunteers of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, is on a four-year sailing tour to educate and inspire students and their communities about respecting and caring for themselves, each other and their natural and cultural environments. They have met with other schools in Virginia, as well as local Indian tribes to talk about a variety of issues including pollution in the ocean, rivers and bays and the importance of preserving a community’s cultural heritage. Most of the crew hails from Hawaii and other Pacific Islands with issues similar to Tangier.

The Hōkūleʻa docked overnight in Reedville on its way to Tangier. Students were lucky enough to meet up with it just before entering Tangier’s channel. Upon arrival, they toured the handmade, 62-foot, 20 foot-wide, double-hulled canoe, built in 1975.

After lunch, the Northumberland team, Tangier sixth-graders, crew and engineers and scientists sat in a circle at the Tangier Combined School and discussed climate change and how it is negatively affecting the heritage, culture and history of communities like Tangier by forcing whole communities to move. They also talked about the importance of trying to preserve those communities. Students learned about the different jobs and avenue of studies they might take to become a scientist, engineer or navigator.

The team decided to “Save Tangier Island” last year after venturing on a three-day Chesapeake Bay Foundation education program on the adjacent island of Port Isobel. That trip was partly funded by a Chesapeake Bay Trust Grant and Omega Protein. After partnering for an awareness campaign with Tangier Town Manager Renee Tyler, she invited them to the island to see the Hōkūleʻa.

After a bake sale, generous donations by NAPS, their school superintendent and relatives, team members hired Heritage Waterman Captain Danny Crabbe and wife Bonnie to take them to Tangier on May 9.

Earlier in the year, students learned about living shorelines from the Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk Division and participated in a webinar through a new education outreach program there. Invited to accompany them on their trip was Norfolk Commander Col. Jason Kelly and Corps Marine Biologist David Schulte, author of a report last year about ways Tangier might hold back erosion. The team also invited Molly Mitchell, a researcher and marine scientist with the Virginia Institute for Marine Science who has advised the governor and Congress on coastal flooding issues and how to improve the resiliency of Virginia’s coastal communities. NAPS co-President Lee Allain was invited to accompany the team as well.

Students from both schools presented a copy of William B. Cronin’s “The Disappearing Islands of the Chesapeake Bay” to the crew and a team t-shirt designed by Team Eco and drawn by team member Mia Bundy. Tangier Island and the team will continue to sell the shirts to raise awareness and money to help Tangiermen. To purchase a t-shirt go to the and hit the “Take Action” button or email:

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