Avery Island, the traditional Louisianan home of Tabasco sauce, is facing an existential crisis caused by climate change and mankind’s meddling with surrounding waterways.
Speaking to The Guardian, Tony Simmons – the seventh consecutive member of the founding McIlhenny clan to run the operation – says the ring of protective marshes around the island is receding at an astonishing pace, leaving their operation largely susceptible to the fury of the Gulf of Mexico.
“We want to protect the marsh because the marsh protects us,” Simmons said, adding “we have to be very aggressive about dealing with the land loss. We almost can’t work fast enough.”
The problem is two-fold. For decades, levees, canals, and other artificial waterways have torn through the landscape to divert the Mississippi River and its valuable sediment away from the wetlands. This has largely starved the natural growth of the region’s marshes.
From the south, rising sea levels have forced salt water into the region, further destroying those already-fragile marshes. All told, these factors are thought to contribute to 9 metres of wetland being lost to the sea each year.
Plus, the land itself is dropping by roughly 2.5 centimetres a year.
While Tabasco now grows the majority of its chilis in South America, the entirety of its ageing and bottling processes are conducted on Avery Island.
Discussing the company’s ambitious and expensive plans to combat the imminent threat, Simmons said “we could make Tabasco somewhere else. But this is more than a business: this is our home.”
And that’s just the threat climate change poses to a tasty condiment. Spare a thought for Kiribati, and hope we can enforce policies to mitigate the damage we’ve already wrought.