Tribal Elders say a changing climate will mean big changes for Hooper Bay’s future

As Hooper Bay works to rebuild after September’s storm, many are concerned about the erosion the storm caused
Hooper Bay Tribal Elders say a changing climate will mean big changes for Hooper Bay.
Published: Oct. 17, 2022 at 7:18 PM AKDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The evidence of typhoon Merbok’s destruction is widespread throughout Hooper Bay, but as the village works to repair the damage and rebuild, its city and tribal leaders are looking even further ahead to prepare for future storms and generations.

Tribal elders say they have never seen a storm as bad as September’s storm.

Mary Ann Nukusuk is an elder of Hooper Bay and is a Yup’ik teacher at Hooper Bay School. She, like most people of the village, had never seen anything like it.

“In my lifetime this is the first time I’ve ever seen it really bad,” Nukusuk said.

“I have nightmares afterwards about it.”

Beyond the water damage and loss of roofs, porches, and power to many homes, much of the village’s infrastructure couldn’t stand up to the storm either.

Boardwalks and bridges were ripped apart, and roads were washed away. Access to water and power also became a concern when their fuel tanks began to move as water surged in.

“That tank is back in place. It was toppled over and another tank, it was just about toppling over,” Hooper Bay Tribal Administrator Jan Olson said.

While it’s going to be a long and tough road to get this village back to normal, what they can’t repair or replace is the land this village sits on. They expect erosion when big storms come in, but not like what they saw after this storm.

Daniel Cernek, a middle school science teacher at Hooper Bay School took GPS measurements before and after the storm hit to measure the erosion.

“I figured it’d be like 10 or 15 feet, something like that,” Cernek said.

But it was much worse than he could have imagined. About 360 feet, well over a football field’s length of the beach and sand dunes was gone in one storm.

“It’s like 70 years of erosion at once, that’s what it should of looked like if I was an old geezer — or even dead — it shouldn’t have been back that far, not just in one storm,” Cernek said.

It’s the erosion that has many people concerned, including tribal leaders.

“Where should we go? Go play out, bring our kids down here,” Hooper Bay Tribal Chief Edgar Tall Sr. said.

“It’s just our world is changing and the climate’s changing and weather itself. I thought it would take longer but all of sudden this from this storm, it’s a wake-up call for us to see where should we move?”

Chief Tall believes those discussions need to start now.

“We need to start the process of trying to move the community up further up or move to a totally different location. It’s not going to take just one entity, it’s going to take all of us,” Chief Tall said.

Beyond serving as protection between the open ocean and the village, the now-eroding beach is also the lifeblood of the Hooper Bay community. It is where they celebrate birthdays and have picnics, but it’s also where they pick grass for basket making and go berry picking.

But now that the dunes are almost gone, those resources are no longer available and tough decisions will have to be made.