Updates from Atlantic Rising: Louisiana, Nantucket, and the Orinoco Delta

Updates from Atlantic Rising: Guyana, a Victorian Expedition, and Exploring with Charles Brewer-Carias

Atlantic Rising
is a project that seeks to educate about global warming, by following
the Atlantic overland along the 1m contour line. Atlantic Rising is
funded by the Royal Geographical Society, and works with schools around
the world to interact, educate, and create a conversation about global

Here are some of our latest updates!



Updates from Atlantic Rising: Losing Louisiana, the Island of Nantucket, and the Orinoco Delta

Losing Louisiana:

The wetlands of the Mississippi delta are disappearing fast with far-reaching implications for the Cajun community

The American state of Louisiana is losing about 25,000 acres of wetlands a year, that’s one American football field every 30 minutes. The wetlands are turning to open water in what is described by scientists as the “Swiss cheese effect”.

Known by locals as the heart of the American machine, the Louisiana wetlands provide ecosystem services. Twice the size of Florida’s Everglades, they ranked second only to Alaska in commercial fish landings and act as a crucial buffer zone protecting the communities of the Mississippi delta from storm surges in the Gulf of Mexico. The region also transports or produces a third of America’s oil and a quarter of its natural gas.

However, a conspiracy of factors is forcing the wetlands underwater. Alluvial deposits naturally subside over time unless topped up with fresh layers of sediment but the levees have been raised so high along the Mississippi that the sediment is channelled straight into the deep waters of the Gulf. 

Subsistence rates have accelerated because the extraction of oil and gas extraction has caused a drop in underground pressure causing slumping of the land above. And since the 1950s countless channels have been cut and dredged through the wetlands to service these oil and gas facilities, increasing the surface area of coastline exposed to wave action, exacerbating the erosion problem.

The boundary where the bayou meets the gulf

The boundary where the bayou meets the gulf.  A fragile margin which is increasingly being threatened by oil industry canals and sinking islands


 Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

This house was blown apart by Hurricane Katrina and then flooded by Hurricane Rita.  This is all that is left

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Coastal Erosion on the Island of Nantucket: Living on the Edge

Last week there was a conference called ‘Living on the Edge: Coastal Communities’ held on the island of Nantucket off the coast of Massachusetts. ‘Living on the edge’ is something Nantucketers know all about as every year they lose houses to coastal erosion. The island was once the centre of America’s whaling industry but now the main industry is tourism. Historic grey shingle clad houses line the cobbled streets of the town centre and tourists arrive daily by boat and plane.

Year round Nantucket’s population is about 15,000 but in the summer this leaps by 50,000 with an influx of wealthy second home owners from the mainland and around the world. However, many of Nantucket’s historic houses are now under threat from coastal erosion. Home insurance is a hot topic for property owners who find their premiums increase year on year. Recent maps need to be redrawn as some areas build up, others are washed away by the sea and the island migrates slowly northwards.

Earlier this month Hurricane Earl destroyed a house on the edge of the village of Madaket, the storm completed what years of coastal erosion had started. Owner Gene Ratner’s attempts to save his property with massive sandbags ultimately proved futile. Some residents in the nearby village, Siasconset, have moved their houses across the road, 50metres or so further from the bluff. But money can’t buy effective long-term sea defences for the mansions on the shoreline. And the southern shore is experiencing an erosion rate of 3metres a year.

Ratner House

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Sea level rise threatens the Orinoco Delta: A culture under threat

The Warao are a river people. Found in the delta of the Orinoco, they live between the expansive ranches ringing the upper delta and the mangrove swamps of the coast. They are quite literally people of the canoe. But sea level change is becoming an ever-pressing concern, threatening their way of life and unique knowledge they hold.

The 25000 Warao that populate the delta have lived in intimate contact with the Orinoco for hundreds of years, developing industry and craftsmanship from the plants and fish that share the river. Everything in their lives comes from the jungle, shaped and woven with techniques passed down through generations. It is knowledge derived from a particular time, a particular relationship to the land and a particular set of resources.

“They are extremely in contact with the water” says Christophe Charbonnel who has lived amongst them for eight years, “they read the water, if there is a movement they know if it is something fishing, if there is an otter, if there is a fresh water dolphin around.”

But their environment is precariously situated between the worlds of salt and fresh water, at once separated from the ocean and umbilically connected to it. The plants and animals on which the Warao depend – the Moriche palm, the Orinoco catfish, the piranha - are freshwater species. But 80km from the coast there is still a tidal range of one metre and this affects the movement of fish and people in the delta.


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All photos courtesy and copyright Atlantic Rising.



Lynn Morris is the Atlantic Rising Editor for Wandering Educators