Barrier islands are pretty dynamic places and today’s evidence of that is Shelly Island, an islet that has formed just off the Cape Hatteras Point.
At this time the island is at most a mile long and varies in width, although all of that is constantly changing. Reports put the new land about 50 yards offshore with a very fast moving channel separating the Outer Banks from the island.
How Shelly Island Formed
What has happened is rare but not unheard of.
The amount of sand that moves past the Outer Banks may be the largest in the world. The shoreline retreats as it loses sand, but the sand generally comes to rest, usually farther south where a beach may widen or accrete.
The Point juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, breaking up the north to south movement of sand. Usually the sand falls to the ocean bottom forming shoals and sandbars, but if conditions are right, enough sand could gather in one place and form an island.
It’s anyone’s guess how long Shelly Island will be there. It may become a permanent or semi-permanent part of the map or a powerful nor’easter might come along and take it out in a day.
Getting to the island is not easy. There have been reports of 5’ sharks and large stingrays in the channel. National Park Service officials have issued warnings about trying to swim or walk across the channel.
According to visitors to the island, the effort is worth it. Seashell collectors report great shelling and fishermen have been heading out to the island hoping to get a bit farther into the waters of the Atlantic.
The story behind the name? According to the tales that have been told, a grandmother took her son to the island and he named it Shelly Island because of all the shells they found.