Senior Isabella Wagner Focuses on Coastal Communities’ Challenges

Senior Isabella Wagner shares her perspective and photography from a National Geographic Photo Camp she attended at the Lowlander Center. Located in Gray, Louisiana, the center supports lowland communities and places, both inland and coastal, for the benefit of both people and environment. To date, National Geographic has sponsored 85 photo camps with thousands of students in more than 20 countries. The photo camps are aimed at students who wish to tell their stories through photography. National Geographic provides them with an immersive learning experience, inspiring the next generation of photojournalists. The photographs from the camps are used for presentations in their own communities and public exhibition that reach viewers from around the world.


by Isabella Wagner, ’20

As a New Orleanian, I have grown up in a melting pot of diverse cultures and traditions. I, like many others living here, thought I knew everything I needed to know about the Big Easy. However, there is a problem that is growing worse each passing day that most are unaware of. The preservation of the land and continuous coastal erosion is one of the most imminent threats Louisiana faces. I learned about these issues in school, but I really saw the severity in person through a photo camp with National Geographic. 

The photo camp, in partnership with Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCOM), was a weeklong experience with locals and scientists to document the path Louisiana is headed on. Spoiler alert: it’s not a good one. Many people are unaware of the issues and either don’t know how to help or just think, “If it’s not affecting me directly, it doesn’t matter.”

Just because New Orleans or other parts of central Louisiana are not being hugely impacted does not prove the problem doesn’t exist. Land loss due to saltwater erosion and sea level rise is causing an epic problem to millions. The people of the Pointe-au-Chien Indian tribe are not officially recognized by the state of Louisiana. Their culture, already diminished greatly over the course of history, will disappear if something is not done. Every minute, they lose more of the land they not only grew up on, but make a livelihood out of.

I spent days photographing their Reservation, sacred Burial Ground, and the local towns and marsh of Chauvin, Louisiana. The nights were spent on fishing vessels and experiencing long-held community traditions, only still practiced by a few. Much of what these people had growing up is now under water. It has slowly been lost to the bottom of the bayou or eaten away at by invasive species like nutria. Foreign competitors also contribute to the problem. Countries like China sell seafood for much cheaper, affecting prices and buyers for local markets. Not only does this hurt our fishermen, but other vendors’ products are often genetically modified. This takes away from those who have made a living out of this, decreases our own profits, and even affects our health. 

Lack of awareness, coastal erosion, and ignorance will continue to serve as a catalyst until the issue becomes too severe to reverse as Louisiana is literally worn away. I want to bring awareness to these rapid changes in Louisiana’s coast to not only preserve the environment, but to preserve our way of life.

Isabella’s Photos

During the photo camp, students worked to create a video depicting stories from their community. Here is the final product:

Lowlander Center Website