In this short documentary film by Paavo Hanninen, with text by David Kortava, the director says “It’s kind of a tragic story of the herculean effort that’s required just to build 1.3 miles of coastline”:
Paavo Hanninen’s documentary looks at a surprisingly simple intervention with the potential to slow runaway land loss along the state’s fragile coast.
As early as the nineteen-thirties, oystermen in southern Louisiana began to notice the shoreline that they worked was creeping inland. In the years since, with sea levels rising and erosion accelerating, more and more coastal land has been overtaken by water. To date, the state’s wetlands have shrunk by about two thousand square miles—an area the size of Delaware. Those wetlands—marshes, swamps—are more than rich ecosystems. They also mitigate the effects of storms, soaking up stormwater and serving as a natural barrier between hurricanes and populated lands. “The effects of the land loss are all around us,” the New Orleans-based filmmaker Paavo Hanninen told me recently. “When the hurricanes come through, you’re dealing with a situation where hundreds of miles of buffer land are now gone, so these storms hit the city with torrential force.”
For Louisiana’s coastal parishes, reduced wetlands mean the areas are more vulnerable to flooding. In just four years in the mid-two-thousands, Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike knocked out three hundred square miles of marsh. In the absence of ample wetlands acting as a kind of sponge, future hurricanes of similar magnitudes, travelling unimpeded over the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico, will be even more destructive. And the attrition of the land is of deep personal significance to coastal communities. “For people in south Louisiana, this is an existential issue,” Hanninen said. “These are places that they know, and that their parents knew, and they’re vanishing.”
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