This story focuses on a tiny island community off the Louisiana coast that is literally losing ground. For over 150 years, Isle de Jean Charles has been home to a small band of Native Americans who have made their living from fishing and farming. 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, as they can no longer support themselves there.
Several factors have contributed to the island's disappearance. Starting in the 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. As the island continues to shrink, so does the community that has depended on it for its livelihood. (For additional background, see the news video listed in Resources below.)