This American town is being swallowed by the sea, and there's no one stepping up to save the people.

It was 2002 when the residents of Shishmaref, Alaska, voted to move their entire town.

The writing was on the wall — or, perhaps more accurately, the water was splashing up between their toes.

The shores of their small island home off the western coast of Alaska had been eroding for decades, with anywhere between three and nine feet of shoreline being swallowed up by the Chukchi Sea on a good year.


In a bad year, it was closer to 23 feet.


Photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

While their island status posed its own unique issues, Shishmaref was just one of the 31 Alaskan towns facing this exact same problem.

They put together an action plan for relocation and submitted it to the federal government.

It would be another two years until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed their own assessment of the situation. Based on their findings, it would cost an estimated $179 million dollars and between five and 15 years to move the 600 residents of Shishmaref to a new location on the Alaskan mainland. 11 potential new locations were then identified — but of course, that took some time as well.

Meanwhile, the town constructed a 200-foot long seawall to protect the northern coast of the island, a temporary solution to slow the effects of erosion while they awaited the bureaucratic process.


Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

By late 2006, they had settled on a new place to call home, Tin Creek, with a plan to move in April 2009.

The Tin Creek relocation area was just 12 miles across the inlet from Shishmaref, which meant that residents who relied on hunting and fishing would still have access to their same game spots.

While they waited for plans to fall into place, the residents of Shishmaref had to build two additional extensions to their protective seawall, bringing it all the way to 2,800 feet in length.


Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

Sure, it sapped some of their already-limited resources to keep adding on to this temporary barrier in a place they wouldn't be for very much longer. But it was all worth it because the threat of rising sea-levels caused by melting polar ice caps in the increasingly-warmer Arctic climate would soon be a distant memory.

Or a 12-mile-away memory, anyway.

OK, well, technically it would still be all around them, but at least their homes wouldn't actually be falling into the water anymore ... right?


Photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images.

It's 2015, and Shishmaref is still exactly where it's always been — only now it's an even smaller sliver of land.

It's not because they're stubborn or beholden to their homes. Frankly, there's no good reason for it at all, and there's no one thing to blame.

It could have something to do with the fact that the Tin Creek relocation area turned out to be a melting plot of permafrost that's facing the exact same problems as modern-day Shishmaref. Or it might have to do with the the cost of living in Alaska, which is already too high — especially in a place like Shishmaref, where 30% of people already live in poverty and a roundtrip ticket off the island costs nearly $400 per person.


Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

Maybe they're still stuck there waiting for help that might never come because the funding for the relocation project all fell through — which in turn might have something to do with the fact that their only champion in Washington, D.C., was arrested.

Or it could be because federal relief funds are reserved for sudden natural disasters such as hurricanes, and rising water levels aren't considered an emergency because we've known about the disastrous effects of climate change for so long but have never done anything about it.

Personally, I think Occam's Razor makes the most sense and that the federal government simply can't be bothered to spend millions of dollars on a handful of poverty-stricken Inupiat in a remote corner of the country.

Whatever the reasoning, one thing is sure: We have left our fellow U.S. citizens to drown in the wake of a manmade disaster.


Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

It's only a matter of time before what happened to Shishmaref happens to the mainland United States.

That's not hyperbole. At the rate we're going, the coastal parts of the country, including California and New Jersey, are headed toward their own watery graves. Even if you feel safe in landlocked state, it'll still have disastrous results for the economy (and of course, the effects of climate change won't stop there).

So maybe, just maybe, it's time we do something about it?

Photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images.

We can start by demanding that President Obama protect the Arctic Circle, which will maybe give our Alaskan neighbors a fighting chance before they're totally devoured by the Chukchi Sea. In turn, that might help slow the effects of climate change for the rest of us as well.

You can also support the Alaska Coastal Villages Relief Fund for the Support of Children and Families or give directly to any of the other Alaskan towns that could use your help to fund their relocation efforts.

Here's a trailer for a full-length documentary film titled "The Last Days of Shishmaref," in case you haven't seen enough:

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Today, I'm a 35-year-old man with a flame shaved into my beard. If the '80s movies I love so much are any indication, this is a sure sign I'm going through some kind of existential crisis. Next week, when the semester starts and I begin teaching again, it will not be strange if my colleagues start to worry about me just a little. A sports car or a neck-jerking pivot to physical fitness — that's an understandable response to the realization that life is fleeting. But a large meticulous flame carved out of facial hair? What does one do with that?

At this moment, though, I'm showing my face proudly to a woman wearing a swimsuit with a taco cat on it. We have only recently met, but she's telling me that she's so into my "fade" that she wants to kiss it. Then she does, blowing a raspberry into my cheek so hard that her hat falls off. Neither of us can stop laughing.

"Live Mas!" she yells with the excitement of someone who's never had trouble fully seizing the moment.

"Live Mas!" I shout back without any irony. There is no irony here in Palm Springs, where, for four days only, hundreds of people celebrate their love for Taco Bell.

Here, there's only swimming and hot sauce-themed leisure wear, and the warm pleasant feeling that comes from eating too much and knowing that you're with your own people. Even if the only thing that connects you is a love for a fast food giant that feeds you when you're hammered and shameless at 2 a.m.

We drank the Baja Blast! My Taco Bell fade and my friend's specialty manicure!Mark Shrayber

What does it mean to Live Mas? This is a question I am forced to ask myself over and over during my 24-hour stay at "The Bell," where I have stowed away as a friend's plus-one. We are, of course, both politely pretending that I'm a full-on guest with all the perks that entails, but we also both know that I wouldn't be here eating unlimited quesadillas poolside without her.

So maybe that's the first thing Live Mas means: To build strong lifelong connections which you can, with some luck, exploit to your benefit. :) :) :)

But this is too cynical an interpretation, because everyone here is so happy. Happy that they've gotten a reservation; happy that they can cool off in a room themed after an iconic Mountain Dew Drink, and happy that they can share their own personal story of what Taco Bell means to them. (Though there's no formal essay contest — I've checked.)

Me: This room won't be that cool. Also me: OH MY GOD, THIS IS THE COOLEST ROOM I'VE EVER BEEN IN!!!Mark Shrayber

Snatches of this story float around the "Fire" pool, where all the entertainment is concentrated: One couple canceled their trip to Prague because "Prague will always be there" — a brave stance considering climate change; another met last year on Tinder after the girlfriend's Taco Bell senior photos went viral; at the opening ceremony on Thursday, where sauce packets were cut instead of a ribbon, a city official brought others to tears with both her Taco Bell fashion and a memory of how her parents would feed an entire family with 19-cent-tacos from the first-ever Taco Bell in Downey, California.

Oh, I forgot one: The guy who skipped out on Prague? He got a giant bell shaved into the side of his head, so he might have to miss out on a black-tie event happening later this week. But it's all good. Bring on the nacho fries.

I make fast friends with four women who are here for a bachelorette party, the bride overwhelmed with good vibes and prosecco. This year, for her 30th, she rented a party bus. Inside? $100 worth of Taco Bell that her fiancee was worried might not be consumed.

"But little did he know," she shouts in the hot tub where we're "cooling off" after a long day of 108-degree sunning, "we ate it all!"

A bachelorette party and a birthday! We're really living it up (but also staying hydrated.)Mark Shrayber

Others whoop it up at the twist, but we all get it. Though there's no essay contest, I don't mind telling you that when my first boyfriend dumped me 14 years ago, I stuffed my face with chalupas. When I lost a job I really loved four years ago, I once ordered so much Taco Bell that the delivery app of my choice informed me I'd exceeded the maximum number of items they could comfortably fill in one order. We get it — though none of us can truly explain it.

There are, if you look at the The Bell from a literary perspective, many other writers who deserve this experience more than me. They could talk about the blue of the pool. Or the insouciance of youth. Draw parallels between marketing stunts such as this and the end-stage capitalism. Or envision a "Demolition Man" future where Taco Bell is fine dining and none of us know how to use the three shells in the bathroom to get ourselves clean.

And I wish these writers could be here to paint you these landscapes, but what you've got is me, a literal Taco Bell super-fan, and what I'm doing is eating and getting sunburned and taking a synchronized swimming class with the Aqualillies, who refer to themselves as "the world's most glamorous water ballet entertainment," but have very little idea of what to do with 10 eager recruits who can't stay afloat or on beat.


G-L-A-M-O-R-O-U-S!!Photo courtesy of Taco Bell.

"It's okay," one of the instructors comforts me just before the Tacolilies (the name of our "team") are invited to perform our watery version of "Senorita" — which was supposed to be two minutes long, then 1:15, and has now been judiciously cut down, due to talent, to about 45 seconds — in the bigger pool. "We regularly teach five-year-olds. And you're doing much better."

Usually, I would take offense at such blatant reads, but today I'm unbothered. I'll continue to be so right until I get home and discover that I've left all my electronics on United Flight 5223 (if anyone wants to get them back to me). And even then, I rage at myself for all of five seconds before checking that I've still got what's important: A certificate that says I did not drown while doing water ballet.

It's still there. As is my phone, which is blowing up with messages from people who took pictures of me in what Taco Bell calls its "power suit," and which is best described as "cult outfit, but kinda make it fashion." I bought my husband one, too, and I look forward to the argument we're going to have about holiday cards later.

This is "Live Mas."

I've never been so happy to match with someone else in my life. MaMark Shrayber

Or maybe it's the moment another stranger tells me that we'll be friends forever. Such friendships are forged quickly when you've got less than 24 hours to make lifelong connections and I'm pleased to get the full experience.

"We may never meet again," he says while we're swimming, "but we'll always have this time together."

Then we establish that he lives just across the park from me in San Francisco.

"Aw, man," he says, floating away to take pictures of the people he came with, "I've got lots of close friends I never see because they live across that damn park."

But the sentiment holds.

We Live Mas it on.

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