Erodindo Tuktoyaktuk: Every year houses in this northern village are approaching the sea


Noella Cockney used to drive her Ford pickup around the perimeter of her home, the three-bedroom house with the large porch her late father built on the Beaufort Sea Shore. In summer, unfurled from the ice, water flows out of its property to become the Arctic Ocean, an endless stream at the northern tip of the northernmost point of the Northwest Territories.

Water also flows inward, more and more with the power and malice needed to redraw the boundaries of the Inuvialuit village of Tuktoyaktuk. It rises a lot there from July to September, storms in which the wind whips the waves and the waves, in turn, smash the nearest land, throwing rocks at the windows and walls that are now closer to the sea than ever before.

Last fall, as the temperature cooled and the 900 Tuktoyaktuk residents prepared for the long annual freeze, 51-year-old Cockney measured the distance between the water and the front door – a distance sufficient to accommodate a truck, shrunk to the point at which a Ski-Doo can not fit.

The gap, she discovered, was two feet.

"It's because of erosion," Cockney said.

You can not fight against nature.

Tuktoyaktuk, Cockney's house for most of his life, is simultaneously flourishing and drowning, opposition situations brought by a new road that in 2017 connected the remote city to the rest of Canada for the first time – and by climate change, a crisis coming from the other direction.

Across the Arctic, heavy storms and melting permafrost are eroding the coast, invading uninhabited islands and driving people from Alaska's coastal villages to vote to move their entire community to safer territory: Newtok in 2003, Shishmaref in 2016.

Tuktoyaktuk, locally known as Tuk, is not exactly at this stage. For now, the threat of impending consumption by the sea is limited to the four addresses remaining on a street called Beaufort Drive.

Cockney lives on Beaufort Drive, and she and her neighbors have been led to struggle in the last few years with a tough and extraordinary choice – or, more precisely, a debate in which nature has nullified everyone's preferred choice. Wishing to remain in the water, each of them plans to adhere to their ruthless march, ripping their house, putting it on skates and towing the structure on the ice that surrounds the city to a new place as quickly as possible.

The last remaining houses on Beaufort Drive in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., can be seen in the center of this photo of the Beaufort Sea coast.

Courtesy of Weronika Murray

Although the settlement has identified several lots far from the coast where residences could go, the material that will hold each one to the ground needs a whole year to be hit before the movements can be carried out. Meanwhile, summer and the next wave of storms are approaching.

"All the owners do not want to leave the area," Cockney said. "But the village will not protect the coast."

Until a little more than a year ago, the Tuktoyaktuk and the aquatic extension that is beyond its limits were practically inaccessible to the majority of the visitors. An ice road used to guide the entrance and exit of the city in the winter; airplanes were the only option in periods of relative heat. The insurmountable tundra isolated Tuk from vehicles that could reach as far as Inuvik, 150 kilometers south of the Mackenzie Delta.

In November 2017, construction workers put the finishing touches on the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk highway, a $ 300 million two-lane highway, funded mainly by the government of Stephen Harper, Canada's first road to the Arctic Ocean. More than 7,000 tourists traveled to Tuk last summer, several multiples above the 1,500 that came by plane in a typical previous year, according to village economic development official Annie Steen.

The influx of visitors inspired a number of new businesses to open, Steen said: a tire shop, a food truck, a restaurant. Residents with an entrepreneurial mindset started selling fish; Snowballed demand for traditional handicrafts. No room was empty all summer in the five bed-and-breakfast in Tuk. Americans, Europeans, and South Americans even plunged their fingers into the Arctic Ocean and watched secular drops – permafrost heaps with soil at the top – in a nearby national landmark, experiences made possible by the presence of the highway.

"You go through ecosystems," said Drew Mitchell of Callander, Ontario, describing the trip of Whitehorse, Yukon, he and his wife Shawna last June to get married on a beach in Tuk.

"You will be in the forest and in the valley, and then you will appear and you will climb a mountain range, but you are above the tree line, it is totally unobstructed visions of these immense valleys, up to the summits." From Inuvik onwards , he remembered, all they could discern on either side of them was the tundra.

As Canadians, "we're so focused on Halifax, Vancouver and everything," Mitchell said. "There are large areas of our country that are from the north and we never made it."

As tourists from afar return in the thousands this summer, the complications of life on the Arctic coast will once again be a priority on Beaufort Drive – as it will be for Dustin Whalen, a physical government scientist who, for the past 15 years, has based his research on erosion in northern Canada from Tuk.

Tuktoyaktuk is not the only Canadian community where the sea invasion is overloading buildings and forcing people to think about moving, said Whalen: It is a common place in country houses and troublesome in parts of Nova Scotia where he works the largest part of the year. But he can attest firsthand the fast pace at which storms are attacking the Tuk – and the damage the storms are causing, synthesized by some stormy days he spent in a rented house a few hundred yards from the coast last August .

When the wind of that particular system finally calmed down, Whalen and 10 fellow scientists with whom he was staying emerged from their isolation state and began to calculate how much the shoreline along Beaufort Drive had receded. In front of a garage a few meters from Cockney's house, the difference from before the storm was four meters, more than triple the annual erosion recorded in previous years.

In August 2018, a powerful storm caused erosion of four meters of land in a coastal neighborhood in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. The storm exposed an underground layer of permafrost and brought the Beaufort Sea a few feet from the remaining houses of the area.

Dustin Whalen, Natural Resources Canada

Instead of the land that had disappeared, Whalen and his colleagues saw the exposed permafrost that existed only underground, now susceptible to yielding its position to the waves.

Unlike the garage, a thin layer of rocks still holds the home of Cockney and those of his neighbors to the sea. But much of that barricade has already been taken away, leading Whalen to sum up the likely consequence: "If Noella is two feet away now, she'll be in the water next year."

Merven Gruben, the mayor of Tuk, said city officials had plans to get around the worst of the scene: they wanted to put the last houses on Beaufort Drive into skidding sometime before this summer, which would allow them to take each dwelling a few yards distance. imminent danger if the need arises.

The village has designated the area as an undefined area, Gruben said, citing a regrettable axiom of life on the coast: "You can not fight nature." He said Tuk had been receiving government funding for existing mitigation efforts for years. versions of what proved to be ineffective, anyway. Artificial barriers do not stop the permafrost from disappearing, and when the waves arrive in summer, the rocks can only withstand their ferocity for so long.

"All we can do is adapt," Gruben said. "Our people are very good at adapting."

So life will continue for Noella Cockney, not on the land where the grandfather resided, but at least in a familiar place. "It's very close to my heart, keeping the house," Cockney said. For now, she waits, hoping nothing will be damaged when eventually the short journey on the ice is green.

The next house on Cockney on Beaufort Drive belongs to her mother, Lucy, and next to Lucy is the Adam family: Sarah and her husband Sandy, sons James and Jeffrey and five grandchildren, all together in the four bedroom house they used to return in a beach, all the way back when the couple moved 26 years ago.

Sarah Adam, 60, has always lived in Tuk, and the coast of the Beaufort Sea has diminished year after year, but only in the last three or four summers did the wind and the waves melt into something strong enough to bother her. and your family. That's when Adams started thinking about moving, a process she wants to accelerate now that the coast has retreated to the back window.

Several decades ago, Sarah had a family who lived a short distance from her home in the Tuktoyaktuk area, in housing units that were already sold and moved away from the water. She and Sandy want to keep the house in the vicinity, but the saying of non-development of the village will probably prevent that hope. They are more likely to move somewhere like the neighborhood of Reindeer Point, about seven miles south of the new highway.

The idea of ​​saving your house, but leaving your home, makes you sad. But water can not be stopped, and when she thinks of her children and grandchildren, she knows it's time.

"I do not want to end up in the ocean."

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