Climate Change News

Photography Focuses on Sea Level Rise and Eroding Communities

Narratives from applicants for the Getty Images Climate Visuals Grants provided a unique insight into the reality of climate change. Both winners focused on the impact of sea level rise.

By The Guardian

Covering Climate Now logoThe winning photographers, Aji Styawan and Greg Kahn, on opposite sides of the world, captured the stories of the impact of rising sea levels in Indonesia and the United States and the resilience with which communities have responded.

Their local knowledge, individual photographic style and cultural sensitivity shone through to the grant judges. Both reveal restrained emotion and a surreal sense of place.

The landscape, communities, political structures, religions and people these photographers work with are diverse. Their proposals and photography work impressed the jury and embraced the Climate Visuals seven principles for impactful photography.

Drowning Land by Aji Styawan

Indonesia is one of the largest archipelago nations in the world, with more than 17,000 islands. The majority of the small islands are only a meter above sea level. Deforestation, land reclamation and groundwater extraction make these areas even more vulnerable to rising sea levels.

A man wades through calf-deep water on a residential street in Java, Indonesia.
A resident of the Sayung subdistrict in Demak, Central Java, slowly makes his way through the inundated streets of the village. Credit: Aji Styawan / Getty Images Climate Visuals Grant Recipient

Experts predict that before 2050, thousands of small islands and millions of houses in coastal areas across Indonesia will disappear due to rising sea levels.

Demak is on the northern coast of Central Java, about 300 miles east of Jakarta. More than 500 households have been displaced in the past 20 years.

A raft carries students across a shallow marsh.
A raft takes Javan students across a flooded area to a road from where they can go to school. Their usual road to school collapsed due to abrasion caused by rising sea levels. Credit: Aji Styawan / Getty Images Climate Visuals Grant Recipient

As the sea levels rose, farmland became fish ponds and mangrove forests, which are now also submerged. Today it’s all sea.

Frayed plastic bags of rubble anchor a drowned gravesite.
At a public cemetery in Demak, a tomb is protected from coastal erosion by rock filled bags. Credit: Aji Styawan / Getty Images Climate Visuals Grant Recipient

 

3 Millimeters by Greg Kahn

Three extra millimeters of water every year will make land vanish. It will swallow communities. It will change environmental habitats forever. It will cause record pollution. For townspeople along the inner coastal region of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, the impact of sea level rise is no longer an abstract worry debated by politicians. They see the land becoming more saturated beneath their feet. Thirteen of the bay’s southern islands, many of them once inhabited, are gone.

Water spills onto Hoopers Island Road, in Hoopersville, Md. during high tide.
Water spills onto Hoopers Island Road in Hoopersville, Md., during high tide. The Eastern Shore of Maryland has a rate of sea level rise that is twice the global average. The results are high tides that wash out roads connecting communities, and land that is slowly disappearing into the Chesapeake Bay. Credit: Greg Kahn / Getty Images Climate Visuals Grant Recipient

3 Millimeters explores the waterways of Maryland, where, due to the region’s makeup and Atlantic Ocean flow, sea levels are rising twice as fast as the global average and will leap by as much as 5ft by 2100. This will submerge more than 250,000 acres of land, displacing more than half a million people. Farms once fertile and productive now wilt as mounting salinity levels force families to abandon their way of life.

A glove from an oyster shucker is covered in so much sand and mud that it retains its shape even when the shucker goes on a break.
A glove from an oyster shucker is covered in so much sand and mud that it retains its shape even when the shucker goes on a break. Credit: Greg Kahn / Getty Images Climate Visuals Grant Recipient

There is nothing to stop Hoopers Island from slowly drowning. Locals point 100 yards into the bay, telling stories of a baseball field where they used to play. Graves containing the island founders, once buffered by a forest, now jut out from an eroding shoreline patched with makeshift rock walls. “I doubt there’ll be any human life here in 100 years,” said Donald Webster, who works for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

While nothing can reverse rising seas in places like Smith Island, there is hope for others. Gradient sea walls, vegetation renourishment and public education are all trying to preserve natural habitat and homes along the coast. The hope is that it will stop erosion as well as maintain habitat for sealife such as horseshoe crabs and terrapins.

Aerial image of the Chesapeake Bay intruding on marshlands of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
Water from the Chesapeake Bay intrudes on the marsh of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, killing trees and drowning the land in its path. Credit: Greg Kahn / Getty Images Climate Visuals Grant Recipient

—The Guardian
 
 
This story originally appeared in The Guardian. It is republished here as part of Eos’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story.

Citation: (2020), , Eos, , https://doi.org/10.1029/. Published on 21 April 2020.