In 2009, thirty one Alaskan villages were deemed “imminently threatened” by erosion and flooding. One of these communities is Newtok, Alaska, the home of about three hundred and fifty people who still depend on the food they hunt, gather, and fish near the Bering Sea.

Bronen: “They need to relocate, that is the only adaptation strategy they have to protect themselves from climate induced environmental change.”

That’s Robin Bronen, Executive Director of the Alaska Institute for Justice, a nonprofit that protects the human rights of immigrants and refugees.

As the Arctic warms, the sea ice, which used to protect the coast from waves and storm surge, is melting. Permafrost is also thawing, causing the ground itself to sink or melt away, making the citizens of Newtok some of the world’s first climate refugees.

Bronen hopes the lessons of Newtok will help other communities as sea levels rise and climate refugees become more commonplace.

Bronen: “Protecting human rights is going to be critical as these relocations happen not only in remote Alaska, but all over the world.”

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: The Newtok Planning Group logo: The relocation site is called Mertarvik, which in Yup’ik means, “getting water from the spring.” (Source:

More Resources
America’s first climate refugees
Alaskan village stands on leading edge of climate change
Relocation report
Relocation of Alaska’s sinking Newtok village halted
When global warming kills your god

Sara Peach is the editor-in-chief of Yale Climate Connections. She is an environmental journalist whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Scientific American, Environmental Health News, Grist,...