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5 years ago, this island was the size of 4 football fields — now a devastating disaster has completely washed it away

Business Insider logo Business Insider 5/7/2015 jorwig@businesssinsider.com (Jessica Orwig)

In 2010, Cat Island was a pristine nesting spot for pelicans and other birds native to the coastal shores of Louisiana:

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Today, the only way you'd know the island ever existed is by tracking the pelicans and other birds who return to the same spot each year to breed:

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In just five years, something ripped the root system right out from under this island, which then allowed waters from the Gulf of Mexico to pour over the coast inch-by-inch until nothing was left.

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Sea levels are on the rise due to earth's warming climate and could increase by as much as 56 inches, according to a 2009 prediction by the National Academy of Sciences. But that will not happen until the year 2100.

Wiping Cat Island, which used to be about the size of four American football fields, from the face of the earth in less than a decade took a different kind of devastation: the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010.

"The oil comes down, it kills the mangroves, which then kills the root system," Natalie Peyronnin, who is the director of science policy for the Environmental Defense Fund, told National Geographic. "And the root is holding together this island, and without that root system holding together, the sediment it just erodes away."

Cat Island is part of Plaquemines Parish — a parish in Louisiana — and right now residents of the parish are working to raise $6 million to restore the island. If it is not restored, the brown pelicans, seagulls, spoonbills, and egrets who use it as a nesting ground could suffer a dangerous reduction in numbers.

"When the birds come back here, if the island is gone, they don't' go off and breed somewhere else, they just don't breed," P.J. Hahn, former coastal zone director of Plaquemines Parish who is leading some of these funding efforts, told National Geographic.

So far, they have raised $3 million — $1 million of which was donated by Shell Oil.

“BP was asked to contribute to rebuilding Cat Island multiple times,” Hahn told the DeSmogBlog Project, 'but they haven't given anything to help the project."

In July 2012, President Obama established the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund through the Restore Act. Through this act, 80% of civil penalties paid after July 6, 2012, in connection with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill will be deposited into the Trust Fund.

This fund is where the residents of Plaquemines Parish hope to raise the majority of the remaining $3 million they need to save Cat Island.

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