Environmental and Cultural Collapse of Louisiana’s Vanishing Coast
Louisiana is at the forefront of global sea level change, experiencing the highest rate of coastal erosion in America, losing about one hundred yards of land every thirty minutes- land loss the size of a football field every half-hour. These images are a recent selection of a long-term investigation of rapid changes in wetlands geography and population in Southern Louisiana, largely due to human activity. The photographs are results of more than two decades of annual revisitation of the specific geographic area, The Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary. Witnessing this physical unraveling of landscape became a personal visual metaphor for the disintegration of my native country of Yugoslavia.
In addition to global sea level rise, and pollution, in this century alone, a dozen major storms, including Katrina and Rita in 2005, and Gustav in 2008, drastically changed the geography of Louisiana’s coast. On August 29th, 2021 Hurricane Ida caused catastrophic wind damage and flooding in the area. following Port Fourchon landfall, it rendered towns of Grand Isle and Golden Meadow nearly uninhabitable.
People of Louisiana are closely defined by the landscape they inhabit. Unfortunately, this fascinating correlation between people and geography is under a dire threat of vanishing simply because the land they occupy is physically retreating. Our modern technology and engineering is capable of physically slowing the coastal erosion, but it is not very good at preserving the cultural heritage. Many of South Louisiana’s communities, including Indigenous Americans, Cajuns, and Asian Americans are affected by loss of natural resources, economic impact, and direct loss of property. Every year, small local communities are abandoned and gradually sink into the wetlands. One of such places, Isle de Jean Charles, is a historical home of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw people. In the past 60 years the community lost over 98 percent of their land due to rising sea levels. In 2016, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development allotted 50 million USD for community resettlement. Many choose to remain on the land they occupied since 1830s.
This is a story of challenges and adaptations. This project layers cultural documentary and environmental concerns by presenting Louisiana’s wetland issues in context of our global cultural-environmental situation. This subject is a proverbial “canary in the mine” for problems affecting the entire planet. It is the longest undertaking of my career so far, chronicling the continuous shifting of the landscape and adaptation of humanity to our new, warmer and wetter world.