Alabama Historic Sites in Risk Due to Climate Change

By: Aiden Sanders

With Alabama under siege from destructive hurricanes, and tropical storms unmatched in their ferocity and frequency, Alabama was forced to face the effects of climate change firsthand. In 2020 alone, a record breaking thirty tropical storms made landfall, leaving a trail of devastation in their wake, and with the state receiving its first direct hit in sixteen years. Many residents are still reeling from the effects of Sally and Zeta, find themselves worrying about the future of our state. However our future isn’t the only one under threat from climate change, our state’s heritage and history is as well.

Numerous sites of cultural and historical significance are under threat from environmental degradation and climate change across Alabama and the Southeast. Like Dauphin Island, which has lost more than one hundred feet of shore line over the past few decades due to climate change, and the disruption of the flow of sand from the Mobile ship channel. Dauphin Island is home to Fort Gaines, a civil war era fort not only significant to Alabama history, but national history; and although the fort is probably most well known for the siege of Fort Gaines (A decisive naval battle, and victory for union forces during the American civil war.) It is also noteworthy for an event, arguably as, or more noteworthy to national history then the siege itself. As in late January 1861, Fort Gaines was one of the very first federal garrison sites, attacked by confederate militiamen just a few weeks after Alabama seceded from the union. Many residents, historians and environmentalists alike fear that the fort may join the dozens of pilings, where homes once stood around Dauphin Island beneath the waves. It is unlikely the fort will be able to withstand the changes to come with rising sea levels and sediment losses threatening it’s very foundations, unless something is done to stop it.

Fort Gaines, and the Island it resides on is also home to Shell Mound park, remnants of Archaic period native Americans rich with archeological secrets, beautiful beaches and pristine environments seldom seen nowadays. However things are looking up for the Fort, and Dauphin Island as a whole as of late. Just recently, the fort was designated as one of the top most endangered historic sites in America due to the threat it faces; and with increased national attention, there is renewed interest in the subject. Hopefully soon, legislators will finally be able to address and stop the ongoing shore erosion around Dauphin Island, and preserve one of our nation’s most endangered, and unique historic sites.