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Tuktoyaktuk fighting to hold back the sea

When Maureen Gruben bought her oceanfront home nine years ago, she was thinking about her spectacular view of the Beaufort Sea.

Now, as climate change accelerates the steady erosion of the shoreline in this tiny community, she's thinking about berms, boulders and sandbags.

"I have a [one-metre]log berm built around my house, and during high water, the ocean comes right up to the top of the berm. Without that berm, I'd be swamped."

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Ms. Gruben soon may get help.

After years of studies, debate and discussion, Tuktoyaktuk's 800 residents have decided to stand fast and try to hold back the sea.

"I'm born and raised in this community," Mayor Jackie Jacobson said. "I do not want to move."

Nature, however, has its own ideas. Tuktoyaktuk is perched on top of the continent, on the seaward edge of the Mackenzie Delta.

In their traditional way of life, the Inuvialuit came here to hunt whales. The 1930s brought missionaries and the RCMP, who began to build.

Today, the town spreads along the shore and up a narrow point of land that shields Tuk's fine harbour. The land, however, is mostly sand, gravel and silt flushed out by the Mackenzie River and kept in place by permafrost.

Softened by lapping waves and the lashing storms of autumn, the coast has been retreating as much as two metres a year for decades.

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Climate change is making things worse. Sea ice forms later in the year, extending the storm season's heavy waves. Warmer temperatures may be softening all the permafrost, not just that exposed to the ocean.

Over the years, about $2.5-million has been spent beefing up the sagging shoreline with rocks trucked in from Inuvik over the winter ice road.

Now, Tuk's council has passed a motion asking for a five-year commitment from NWT for more rocks. Such reinforcement has worked well in the past, Mr. Jacobson said. The town's cemetery, previously in danger of being swallowed by the ocean, is now secure.

But only about one-quarter of the shoreline is done, and the hamlet needs another $500,000 over the next five years to keep up the fight.

"Government's got to come and help us," he says.

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