‘Jamestown will be lost’: Climate change threatens to sink historic colony

Jamestown, Virginia — More than 400 years after the first European settlers arrived, Jamestown, Virginia, is struggling to survive devastating climate change.

“We’re concerned that if we don’t take action, Jamestown will be lost,” said Elizabeth Kastelny, who runs Preservation Virginia, a nonprofit that oversees the colony’s original 22 acres along the James River.

Kostelny, who is eager to save it from rising waters, said America would lose “a piece of its soul” if the place sinks.

“Jamestown is incredibly important,” she told CBS News. “It tells a national story about our resilience, our democracy and the beginning of our race relations.”

The Jamestown Colony marked the beginning of representative government in the New World. This is also where Pocahontas married John Rolfe. And it remains a site of archaeological history, hidden and waiting to be unearthed. Kostelny said she finds important things on the site “every day.”

“Jamestown is the ultimate in terms of world heritage. It’s a place in our minds where you draw a line in the sand about sea level rise, climate change and cultural heritage,” David Givens, director of archeology for Jamestown ReDiscovery, told CBS News.


Jamestown is committed to protecting the colony from climate change

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This line in the sand begins with a 1904 levee along the riverbank reinforced with 96,000 tons of granite to help deflect the force of ever-increasing storms.

The river has risen more than 18 inches in the past century. So-called 100-year storms now occur every five years. But the biggest threat to Jamestown isn’t the rising river. It is a swamp that literally devours history as it grows.

“We have [water] from both sides, from below, from above. We’re being attacked from all sides,” Michael Lavin, who leads Jamestown’s fight against climate change, told CBS News. “We’re going to have to build buildings, raise roads, do archeological work, put in berms, pump systems. to truly save Jamestown.”

Preserving the site will likely require raising tens of millions of dollars over the next five years to keep this American treasure from being washed away.

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