A tiny Alaskan village was due to find out whether its community had voted to abandon its ancestral home to the rising seas, and become the first settlement in the United States forced to relocate due to climate change.

Shishmaref's 650 residents went to the polls to decide on a long-discussed proposal to move the entire village, to an as-yet-undecided location.

The remote village, on a 1.5km-wide island 965km from the Alaskan capital, Anchorage, is described as being on the frontline of the climate change battle.

Home for generations of seal hunters and fishermen, the island has lost 900m of coastline in the past 35 years.


Rising temperatures have shrunk the sea ice, which buffered Shishmaref from storm surges.

At the same time, the permafrost that the village is built on has begun to melt.

Thinner ice has led to a surge in fatalities among the hunters, who plunge to their deaths through the cracks.

"To put this in perspective: I was born in 1997, and since then, Shishmaref has lost about 100 feet," said Esau Sinnok, 19, who last month was invited to the White House and commended for his activism.

"In the past 15 years, we had to move 13 houses - including my dear grandma Edna's house - from one end of the island to the other because of this loss of land."

Campaigners have been lobbying for solutions for many years.

The cost of relocating Shishmaref is estimated at US$180 million. Villagers have been told no federal money is available to help them move, so were angered when in 2013 it was announced that the US would give Vietnam US$17 million to deal with climate change.