In the last few decades, as sea levels rise, at least half of the tiny Indian island of Ghoramara has disappeared underwater. In a few more decades, it may sink completely.
“This is an unrealistic-looking landscape that exists in reality,” says Daesung Lee, a Paris-based photographer who visited the island a few years ago to document the remaining pockets of land. Several villages on the island are already gone.
As Lee met with the residents who haven’t yet migrated to mainland India or Bangladesh, he asked them to pose on small piles of land surrounded by erosion.
“It looks like a small island that represents the whole situation of this island as a symbolic miniature,” he says. “I approached that simple fact instead of describing individual problems with images. I simply want to say that there are people losing their homeland with this series.”
As the island erodes–a problem exacerbated by the fact that mangrove forests in the area have been chopped down–it’s also dealing with more intense storms. Last summer, tidal waves washed away embankments built to protect villages, houses collapsed, and a layer of slimy mud covered the island. The flooding spread disease and contaminated freshwater.
More than two-thirds of residents have left the island as it becomes increasingly difficult to farm or fish and make a living. By 2050, one report suggests that 1 million people living on islands and coastlines in the surrounding Bay of Bengal may become climate refugees. Some of the islands are already completely underwater.
“Climate change is the biggest challenge we face,” says Lee. “The problem is many people who are not related to globalization issues become victims of this environmental impact. … The impact doesn’t have borders. It’s a butterfly impact. We are all responsible.”