Before they became climate migrants, the people of Enseada da Baleia had lived on Cardoso Island, a secluded, wildlife-rich community about 170 southwest of São Paulo, for over a century. As caiçaras, coastal-dwelling descents of Brazil’s indigenous, Black, and Europeans, many of the locals’ traditions were based on their relationship with the surrounding ocean, marshes, and mangroves. But that changed in the 1990s when locals noticed the ocean coming closer and closer to their homes. By 2015, the thin stretch of sand separating the community from the sea was only 72 feet. Less than two years later, the gap had shrunk to 39 feet.
The government gave the community two options: to relocate to the nearest city — where they risked losing many of their traditions — or move to an unfamiliar community on the same island. Neither situation felt right to many members of the community, who said their identities were too closely linked to their environment.
“I go with my broken heart,” said resident Débora Mendonça, in an interview with the refugee-focused publication Forced Migration Review. “It was here that we created ourselves.”
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