News Release

New documentary details coastal erosion catastrophes, solutions

Contact: Christina Chapple


     HAMMOND – Every 38 minutes a football field size portion of Louisiana converts to open water – an unpleasant truth that serves as the focal point for “American Crisis, American Shame: The National Consequence of Coastal Erosion,” a new documentary from the Center for Southeast Louisiana Studies at Southeastern Louisiana University.

     “American Crisis, American Shame” will premiere at Southeastern’s Columbia Theatre for the Performing Arts Tuesday, Oct. 7, at 7 p.m., as part of the university’s annual Fanfare celebration of the arts. The event is free, and a reception will follow at the Columbia, 220 E. Thomas St. in downtown Hammond.

     The 30-minute film is the product of more than three years of research by center director Samuel C. Hyde Jr., Southeastern’s Ford Family Chair in Regional Studies; center assistant director Keith Finley; and Nick Norton, professor of biology and director of the university’s Lake Pontchartrain Basin Research Program (LPBRP). It was produced for the center by the Southeastern Channel, the university’s educational cable channel.

     “American Crisis, American Shane” continues the story begun with "The Manchac Swamp: Manmade Disaster in Search of Resolution," the center’s award-winning 2006 documentary that focused on the past, present and future of the fragile wetlands.

     Both films were funded by a $63,000 grant from the LPBRP and the Environmental Protection Agency.

     The film makes clear, Hyde said, that Louisiana can no longer afford to ignore the consequences of coastal degradation.

     “Years of exploitation by extracting industries such as oil and gas corporations and timber interests have combined with passivity from politicians and policy planners to create conditions conducive to disaster,” Hyde said. He said the film details how the toll of Gulf hurricanes has increased since unregulated development has eroded the natural buffer of marshlands and cypress swamp.

     “Viewers are likely to be shocked by the magnitude of damage caused to our environment in the past 40 years, and they are certain to leave concerned about the implications for the future,” he said. 

     While the film analyzes the sources of the catastrophe, Hyde said it also suggests a coordinated method, referred to as the “Lines of Defense Strategy,” for containing and reversing the effects of environmental degradation.

     The film contains interviews with a variety of scientists currently engaged in wetlands research, such as Southeastern biologist Gary Shaffer and John Lopez, Coastal Sustainability Program director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. The scientists reveal that a coordinated strategy “is the only alternative available to secure Louisiana’s coast and not only protect a national environmental treasure, but also offer security to industries vital to our national economy,” Hyde said.

     “The very same industries that contributed to the problem may very well emerge as critical partners in any solution,” added co-author Finley.

     “American Crisis, American Shame” was filmed and edited by Steve Zaffutto of the award-winning Southeastern Channel, who also created the graphics. The program utilizes both new and archival footage and includes an original score composed by Brian Hanson, a recent Southeastern graduate.

     “It was a pleasure for the Southeastern Channel to produce Dr. Hyde's documentary," said channel General Manager Rick Settoon, co-executive producer of the film. "The program is eye-opening for viewers in our region and points out the urgent and critical nature of the coastal erosion crisis.”

     In conjunction with the film, the Center for Southeast Louisiana Studies will unveil an interactive exhibit that depicts through a series of interpretive displays the implications of coastal erosion and the directly-related consequences of Gulf hurricanes.

     One of those displays is a uniquely constructed mood tunnel that Hyde said will be “a mini-recreation of a hurricane.” The exhibit will be on display at the center and will travel to regional museums.  

     For additional information, contact the center, 985-549-2151, weekdays, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

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