Photo Essay

  • A dead tree inundated with salt water is covered by high tide in the Kent Narrows on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Oct. 17, 2013.
  • From above, water from the Chesapeake Bay intrudes on the marsh of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, killing trees and drowning the land in its path, Oct. 17, 2013.
  • Left: Phil Jackson, a longtime muskrat trapper, heads out to set traps in Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Jackson says the number of muskrats have declined since the salinity of the water in the marsh has climbed, a result of sea level rise. Feb. 19, 2014.
Right: Deep grooves in the sand on a beach in Crisfield show where the tide had gone out, scraping out pieces of land with it. As the sea level continues to rise, more sediment from marshes along the Eastern Shore end up polluting the Chesapeake Bay, throwing off the environmental balance. Feb. 16, 2014.
  • Water spills onto Hoopers Island Road, up the coast from Crisfield, during high tide on Aug. 1, 2013. The bay is a foot deeper than it was at the start of the 20th century, meaning that storm surges are higher, and land in the region is sinking.
  • Percy Purnell, mayor of Crisfield, MD., shows officials from the Department of Natural Resources areas most affected by sea level rise during an emergency meeting on Feb. 6, 2013. Tidal gates and maintenance of barrier islands are potential stop gaps for Crisfield to mitigate sea level rise in the immediate future, but few, if any solutions exist for the long term.
  • Left: Holly Summers is like many Crisfield, Md. residents, trying to figure out what to do with her home, which was badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Water sits beneath the 130-year-old house, built by Kathy's grandfather, and its foundation has shifted. Aug. 19, 2013.
Right: Dying Sorghum in a field destroyed by salt water. High tides are killing thousands of acres of farmland along the Eastern Shore in Maryland. July 29, 2013.
  • Ruth Schoolfield pauses to wipe her brow during the annual crab picking competition during Labor Day Festivities in Crisfield, Md., Aug. 31, 2013. Crisfield depends on tourists during Labor Day to help their economy, but turnout keeps declining year after year.
  • David Rossi bought his family's vacation home in Crisfield, Md. in 2009 for about $400,000. Now, he says, a number of waterfront properties in the neighborhood sell for about $150,000 partly because of the economy and partly because of property values decreasing amid sea-level rise. July 27, 2013.
  • A lifeless fly is pinned behind glass in a framed painting on the wall of the Cornish's home in Madison, Md., Feb. 16, 2014.
  • Seagulls pick though a pile of oyster shells outside MeTompkin Seafood in Crisfield, Md., Jan. 16, 2014. MeTompkin is one of the few packing plants left in Crisfield, the former seafood capital of the world.
  • Goose decoys pile up in the corner of a shed near Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on May 24, 2013. Birds stopping along the Eastern Shore during annual migrations face starvation as rising sea levels and land reclamation wipe out their feeding grounds.
  • Names painted on an old crab house, Feb. 18, 2014.
  • Left: Kyle Jackson, 9, carries various duck and goose calling whistles around his neck during the 69th Annual National World Championship Muskrat Skinning Contest and Outdoor Show in Golden Hill, Md., Feb. 22, 2014. Waterfowl hunting, another time honored tradition on the Eastern Shore is also threatened by sea level rise as scientists have noticed changes in the bird's migratory patterns with the loss of their marshy habitats.
Right: A controlled brush fire eats away at marsh in Blackwater National Wildlife Preserve on Feb. 22, 2014. Brush fires are used to promote new growth of vegetation every spring in the marsh.
  • Bruce Strobel, 23, clears a fallen tree after a summer thunderstorm in Crisfield, Md., July 27, 2013. Over time, Crisfield, saturated with water from the Chesapeake Bay, kills off trees and plants and replaces them with tidal vegetation and marsh.
  • Waterman Aaron Powley hauls in a net in Fishing Creek, Md., just north of Hoopersville, Aug. 19, 2013. Young watermen are becoming more of a rarity. Some try to continue the family business, which can date more than six generations, saying they don't want to be the one to break the tradition.
  • Eddie Chandler III, 14, of Crisfield, Md., works outside of his mother's pizza and catering business on Aug. 1, 2013. Crisfield is having a hard time keeping younger generations as they don't see any future in the former seafood capital of the world.
  • Left: A piece of the Eastern Shore juts into the bay in Bozman, Md., March 29, 2013. Oysters used to be so plentiful, they filtered excess nutrients from the estuary's entire water volume every three to four days. Now, with only an estimated one percent remaining, it only happens once a year.
Right: Workers, caked in mud, shuck oysters from 4 - 11am weekdays in Crisfield, Md. at MeTompkin Seafood. The more oysters they crack open, the more money they make. Some workers can shuck 5,000 oysters a day. Feb 18, 2014.
  • A trail where muskrats have been lead the way in Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Feb. 19, 2014. Trapper Phil Jackson says the number of muskrats have declined since the salinity of the water in Blackwater has climbed, a result of sea level rise.
  • Art Daniels, 92, nicknamed Daddy Art, is said to be the oldest waterman still working on the Chesapeake Bay. He started when he was 17 years old, working on his father's boat. He's not sure the family tradition will continue after he passes. Feb. 18, 2014.
  • Workers, caked in mud, shuck oysters from 4 - 11am weekdays in Crisfield, Md. at MeTompkin Seafood. The more oysters they crack open, the more money they make. Some workers can shuck 5,000 oysters a day.
  • Local fishermen show off their catches from the Chesapeake Bay in old photos, a memory of better times, that are posted on a bulletin board at Gootee's Marine in Church Creek, Md., April 11, 2013.
  • Watermen have a quick breakfast and coffee before heading out to fish for crabs at sunrise in Crisfield, Md., Aug. 2, 2014. With sea level rise happening at an accelerated rate, fewer people are choosing to live in areas susceptible to flooding and generational watermen are moving inland to find different work.
  • Left: An apron worn by one of the oyster shuckers at MeTompkin Seafood in Crisfield, Md., Jan. 16, 2014. MeTompkin is one of the few packing plants left in Crisfield, the former seafood capital of the world.
Right: Don Wharton takes a smoke break while shucking oysters at MeTompkin Seafood in Crisfield, Md., Jan. 16, 2014. Wharton, who has been shucking oysters for 31 years, said he used to make about $210 per day, but now only earns $80 for putting in the same amount of work.
  • Casey Milbourne, Miss Crustacean 2013, stands in the cafeteria of Crisfield High School in Crisfield Md., Aug. 29, 2013, after being crowned the winner of the annual  beauty pageant. Crisfield, which has been called the seafood capitol of the world, is forever tied to the water but its future is more and more threatened by sea level rise.
  • A member of New Revival Methodist Church checks on the church's heating system on a cold day on February 15, 2014, in Madison, Md. The historic church is now threatened by sea level rise, and the older members aren't sure it will survive much past their lifetime.
  • Doris Cornish sits in her living room across the street from New Revival Methodist Church in Madison, Md., Feb. 15, 2014. The historic church is now threatened by sea level rise, and the older members aren't sure it will survive much past their lifetime.
  • Brandon Sterling, 22, waits for watermen to unload their catch at MeTompkin Seafood in Crisfield, Md., Feb. 18, 2014. Born in Crisfield, Sterling wants to make enough money to buy his own place and make a life for himself in the fishing town, but realizes the obstacles the town faces may force him to eventually leave.
  • Billy Laws, caked in mud, washes off after shucking oysters all morning in Crisfield, Md. at MeTompkin Seafood, Feb. 18, 2014. The monotonous work still provides enough money to live off of, but with less oysters and crabs in the Chesapeake Bay, less workers are needed for less hours.
  • Invasive phragmite reeds advance upon a house in Church Creek, about 40 miles from Crisfield, Md., May 24, 2013. Phragmities, an invasive tidal vegetation, is usually the first sign that the land is saturated with salt water, a symptom of sea level rise.
  • Lacolia Alford, left, watches disaster assessment officials check for leaks on her roof from her bedroom window in Crisfield, Md., on Aug. 6, 2013. Her home suffered major damage from water after Hurricane Sandy and almost a year later, still needs  $7,000 in repairs to the roof and foundation of the house. 
Waterman Roger Morris, 50, right, of Lakesville, Md., in a deer stand, on Aug. 4, 2013. Morris predicts that there will be no watermen left in Dorchester in 50 years.
  • Watermen clean crab pots and nets in Fishing Creek, Md., just north of Hoopersville, on Aug. 19, 2013. As property values plummet from sea level rise and stiffer regulations on what can be caught, young watermen on the Eastern Shore are becoming more of a rarity. Some try to continue the family business, which can date more than six generations, saying they don't want to be the one to break the tradition.
  • Phil Jackson, a longtime muskrat trapper, checks muskrat traps near Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Feb. 22, 2014. Jackson says the number of muskrats have declined since the salinity of the water in the marsh has climbed, a result of sea level rise. Scientists predict this area will be underwater in about 50 years.
  • Latasha Wallace, a case manager for Long-Term Recovery Committee in Crisfield, Md., inspects a home for water damage during Hurricane Sandy assessments on Aug. 6, 2013. Hurricane Sandy was a early warning to residents of what sea level rise will mean in the future, with more storms and flooding from hider tides.
  • Luther Cornish, 84, sits in his living room across the street from New Revival Methodist Church in Madison, Md., Feb. 16, 2014. The historic church is now threatened by sea level rise, and the older members aren't sure it will survive much past their lifetime.
  • Phil Jackson, a longtime muskrat trapper, heads out to set traps in Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Feb. 19, 2014. Jackson says the number of muskrats have declined since the salinity of the water in Blackwater has climbed, a result of sea level rise. Scientists predict this area will be underwater in about 50 years.
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Rising tides threaten former seafood capital

Updated

Climate change is real, and most Americans believe it to be real. But even most of those who acknowledge the reality of man-made climate change see it as, at worst, an abstract and distant threat. Only 54% of Americans believe that climate change has already begun, and 36% see it as a serious threat to their own way of life, according to a recent Gallup poll. That leaves 64% of the country relatively undisturbed by the possibility for catastrophic environmental change in their lifetime.

It’s closer than they think. In fact, rising tides and steadily climbing temperatures have already begun to reshape this planet, altering human society in unpredictable ways. These changes aren’t just happening in third world island nations: For the residents of Chesapeake Bay, Md., climbing sea levels are now an inescapable fact of life.

On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the tide is now rising at a speed of about three millimeters per year. While that might not sound like much, it’s enough to completely submerge the region within the next half-century. In the meantime, residents have had to learn to cope with other consequences, like eroding real estate values and salt water that leeches the vitality out of their farm soil.

Award-winning photographer Greg Kahn traveled to Eastern Maryland to capture the damage which is already visible. What he found there was the “a tiny apocalypse unfolding in plain sight.”

“Generations of watermen created a tight-knit community within its own cultural ecosystem, and they do not want to see it washed away,” he wrote. “These photographs depict the last breaths of a community as they are forced to adapt to the smallest by most devastating tidal wave.”

Click the slideshow above to see how they have adapted so far.

For more feature photography, go to msnbc.com/photography.