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America's First "Climate Refugees"

Between rising sea levels, delta engineering, and environmental damage by oil companies, Louisiana is losing dry land at an alarming rate. The community of Isle de Jean Charles has seen the wetlands turn to water, and the dry land shrink away. This is home to about 60 members of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indian tribe, who must soon find a new home and a new way of life as their island melts away.

Louisiana is losing 75 square kilometers of coastal terrain every year, and the residents of this island have been called the first “climate refugees” in the United States. They’re unlikely to be the last. Other Gulf Coast states are also surrendering land to the water at a rapid rate. And up north, the 350 villagers of Newtok, Alaska, are hoping to move to higher ground. But Isle de Jean Charles is the first American community to be awarded federal funding—$48 million—to relocate en masse. There are tentative plans to move the tribe to northern Terrebonne Parish; the state of Louisiana and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are still negotiating the details.

The July-August issue of Smithsonian magazine looks at Isle de Jean Charles and other disappearing areas in southern Louisiana in pictures by Ben Depp, which you can see online now.

(Image credit: Ben Depp)

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