SMITH ISLAND, MD (CBS) - A visit to Smith Island in Maryland, is like a trip back to a simpler, slower time, but its days are numbered. It's not just a way of life that's disappearing, it's the island itself.
By sunrise Pal Bradshaw and his son Chad were already on the water hauling in blue crabs, as the people of Smith Island, Maryland have done for generations. Bradshaw says, "This is a waterman's day, not rough, no wind, this is a perfect day for being on the water."
In the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, Smith Island is reachable only by boat. CBS has been documenting life here since 1965. Oysters and crabs were thriving, and the population was about 850. But when they returned in 1990 there were barely half as many. And by 1999 it was down to 350.
Back then Jennings Evans was the island's unofficial historian. Fourteen years later, at 82, he still is. Evans says the population now is less than 200. With his own eyes he can see the island slowly disappearing. He says, "Yeah, I don't like to think of it. I can see that graveyard where I'm going to be laid one of these days, pretty soon I guess, and see the water coming over you."
Scientists at the University of Maryland say the water level is rising in part because of climate change and that the island could disappear in 20 to 50 years.
For high school seniors the biggest decision of their lives is whether to stay or go. These three best friends dream of fishing and crabbing and eking by for the rest of their lives. Kyle Tyler says even thinking about leaving is painful. He says, "I don't want to that's for sure. I dread it. I dread it one hundred percent, but I've got to move off and try to make some money, more than what they make over here."
The bay can be kind and cruel. For nearly 200 years it provided a way of life that it now threatens to take away.