Every year, a little more land around Venice, Louisiana, sinks underwater. The delta started shrinking after levees sealed off the natural flow of the Mississippi River—and its land-building sediment–in the 1930s. Then oil and gas companies dredged canals, turning wetlands into open water. Now, combined with the effects of rising seas, 16 square miles of land in Southeastern Louisiana disappears annually.
A new photo series shows what it looks like to live in an area that won’t exist by the end of the century if sea levels rise five feet.
“We’re kind of on the frontline of climate change and environmental degradation,” says photographer Virginia Hanusik, who started documenting the local landscape when she moved from New York to Louisiana to work at a startup accelerator focused on coastal restoration and water management.
“The history of the region itself has just always been fascinating to me from an architecture lens, and thinking about urban planning and how we make sense of the natural environment here,” she says. “How our history has been to tame that natural environment, and we’re dealing with the consequences now.”
The photos show abandoned stores and roads in some areas. People have left for a variety of reasons, from the BP oil spill that decimated local fishing to Hurricane Katrina. Other photos show houses on stilts or sitting on stacked pallets, home to people determined to stay.
“There are people that are staunch believers that the place is going under, but there are also people who have the means to elevate their homes or pay super-high flood insurance rates that allow them to remain on this vulnerable land, but protected,” says Hanusik.
In Venice, a road surrounded by open water–and slowly dying cypress trees–has likely stayed above water because the Gulf refineries that use it can afford to keep investing in the infrastructure.
Nearby, the entire Native American community of Isle de Jean Charles, a small island in the Gulf, has already started to relocate.
Hanusik plans to continue the series, showing the changes in real time to a broader audience outside the area. “It’s not something that people in other environments are seeing all the time . . . but this relates on a global level,” she says. “This is not something that’s specific to coastal Louisiana, even though it’s happening at a very accelerate rate here. It’s also something that’s going to be happening all over the world.”
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