It was recently reported that seventy years ago, on this day, Wenceslaus and Denicia Billiot got married, and their wedding party revolved along a road that ran from one end of Isle de Jean Charles to the other. Today, that road is nearly gone. Isle de Jean Charles, located 80 miles from New Orleans, has been sinking slowly. Since 1955, it has lost 98% of its land mass to rising sea levels, devastating hurricanes, and the construction of oil and gas canals along the marsh. The most recent research shows that, if the current rate of global warming continues to increase, sea levels have the potential to rise more than three feet by the end of this century. This would mean that the end of Isle de Jean Charles. Today, only half a square mile of land remains above water level . Acknowledging the danger, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded $48 million to the state of Louisiana in 2016 to relocate the community to higher ground, off the island — making the residents of Isle de Jean Charles the country’s first-ever climate refugees.
The island’s residents have had mixed reactions to the grant. Most of them are members of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Native American tribes or United Houma Nation, which can trace their settlement on the island back to the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Many have lived on the island their whole lives. In the 1950s, there were around 80 families living in Isle de Jean Charles. Now, there are only 30 left. The 30 families are still on the island, waiting out the long process of resettling the entire community. The deadline for spending the federal funds is set for September 2022, and the state is hoping to resettle the community by then.