Nantucket is a town, a county, and an island destination resort located 26 miles south of Cape Cod, 91 air miles south of Boston, and 207 air miles east of New York City, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts off the east coast of the United States. Some 14 miles long and 3 1/2 miles wide, the island has a perimeter of 55 miles of sandy beaches facing the Atlantic Ocean on the south and east and Nantucket Sound on the north and west. Though losing about six acres per year from shoreline erosion, particularly along the southwesterly and easterly shorelines, the island's total area is just under 50 square miles, or roughly 30,000 acres. It has been predicted that a warming atmosphere and rising ocean levels, combining to accelerate erosion and increase ocean storm ferocity, may cause the island to disappear in less than 350 years.
Travel to and from the island is by boat from Hyannis, or airplane from Hyannis, New Bedford, Boston, or New York. Nantucket's Memorial Airport is second in New England in the number of flights, with an estimated total of 258,000 passengers departing in 2009, well below the 302,161 in the year 2000. In the year 2009, the Woods Hole, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket Steamship Authority, created in the early 1960s as the island’s lifeline, transported some 513,600 passengers to and from America to Nantucket. 67,200 cars and 38,000 trucks were carried between Hyannis and Nantucket. These figures were off about 6.8% compared to 2008. After a slower start in 2010, traffic to the islands improved with warm summer weather and currently is close to last year’s levels. The privately operated Hy-Line, licensed by the Steamship Authority, carried some 360,000 passengers roundtrip from Hyannis in 2009.
During the "palmy days" from 1750 to 1850, Nantucket was the whaling capital of the world, with her locally-built sturdy whale ships and crews representing the first Americans traveling far into the Pacific Ocean in search of spermaceti. With their successful voyages, the island became the second richest community in New England. But after the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania, Nantucket’s Great Fire of 1846, the development of rail transportation to New Bedford, and the 1849 gold rush, Nantucket’s whale fishery declined rapidly. The islanders gradually encouraged the summer visitor and tourist trade, and along with construction of new homes, this is the leading industry today.
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