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A Vanishing Island Off the Louisiana Coast

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How can climate change impact the future of communities in coastal areas? Lifelong residents from the Isle de Jean Charles, a tiny island community off the Louisiana coast, are witnessing rising sea levels, stronger storms, and coastal erosion. This lesson will explore the consequences of climate change and how it effects the island's residents who are being forced to leave their homes.

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For over 150 years, the Isle de Jean Charles has been home to a small band of Native Americans who have made their living from the island's surrounding waters. But in the last 50 years, 90 percent of this once lush island has been swallowed up by water; it is now just a quarter-mile-wide sliver covered with dead trees. Most of the island's residents have been forced to leave due to the destruction of their homes from storms, the inability to rebuild, and the loss of jobs on the island. 

Several factors have contributed to the island's disappearance. Starting int he 1930s, oil companies carved canals in the surrounding marshlands to access their oil rigs. The canals brought in salt water, eroding the island and killing plant life. In addition, flood control dams and dikes on the Mississippi River prevented the natural flow of silt that historically helped rebuild the island. And, with climate change, the rising sea level due to melting polar ice is covering more land. The island is experiencing a rise in severe hurricanes during the Atlantic hurricane season, active from June to November each year, and is threatening to wash their home away. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, more than 50 percent of the U.S. population live in coastal counties. As the island continues to shrink, so does the community that has depended on it for its livelihood. 

Read this article, The Skeleton of the Isle de Jean Charles, which urges us to think about how these small communities are adapting to global warming, sea rise, and stronger storms. 

This article documents many residents on the island as well as the main reasons for land loss. 

Take a look at these before and after photos of the Isle de Jean Charles, from 1968 to 2008. 

Explore the coast with this interactive map through time. This resource shows that Louisiana is losing a football field of land every 48 minutes!

Watch this TED talk by Gavin Schmidt: The emergent patterns of climate change.


Avatar for Cleary Vaughan-Lee
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Point Reyes Station, CA, United States

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