© 2024 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

New Island Surfaces Along Coast Of North Carolina's Outer Banks


The United States has gotten just a little bit larger. Cape Hatteras, N.C., has a new addition to the landscape. Shelly Island is the unofficial name of a mile-long sandbank that has appeared just off the coast. And here to speak with us about it is Dave Hallac, who is superintendent of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Thanks for joining us today.

DAVE HALLAC: Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: And what does this little island look like?

HALLAC: The island is sort of a semicircle. It's just south of a very popular location at Cape Hatteras National Seashore called Cape Point. And Cape Point is often referred to as the old faithful of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It's a very, very popular location. It's a little spit that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. And it's also in a location that is right next to the confluence of the Labrador and Gulf Stream currents. It's an amazing spot.

SIEGEL: And this little bit of an island - did it just pop up, or has it been gradually appearing?

HALLAC: You know, it's been gradually appearing. I was looking at some aerial photography back from earlier this winter around February, and you could see the island underwater. You could see the bar and shallow waves breaking on it. And over time, more and more sand has accumulated on the island or this bar, and it is now above ground by several feet. And as you noted earlier, many of the locals are calling it Shelly Island.

SIEGEL: Yeah. Why are they calling it Shelly Island, by the way?

HALLAC: They're calling it Shelly Island because of this incredible accumulation of shells, seashells on the island, in particular some really large whelks, which are a very popular shell for folks to collect.

SIEGEL: This isn't for Theodore Shelley (ph) or someone like that. It's because there are lots of shells there, is what you're saying.

HALLAC: That's correct. We do have an employee named Shelly locally, but it's not named after her.

SIEGEL: How common is it? I mean I thought it's more common after big hurricanes and the like for bits of islands to disappear rather than for new ones to crop up.

HALLAC: Right. You know, actually the Outer Banks is a very dynamic location. Oftentimes you'll see bumper stickers on people's car that refer to, quote, "life on a sandbar." And that's literally what it's like in the Outer Banks. It's very dynamic. The islands are often accreting, meaning they're growing in size because of sand accumulating, and they're often eroding and shrinking in size. This particular area is exceptionally dynamic.

And just off the coast here is a location called the Diamond Shoals, shoals meaning large sandbars underwater. And they unfortunately over, you know, many hundreds of years have taken hundreds of ships and caused the location off of the coast here in Cape Hatteras to be referred to as the graveyard of the Atlantic.


HALLAC: So these types of shifting sands and sandbars building up are very common.

SIEGEL: Should people who want to see Shelly Island do so in a hurry because it might go away just the way it popped up?

HALLAC: You know, I would say that getting to Cape Point and seeing Cape Point absolutely is something they should try to do during times that it's accessible. It's very possible that Shelly Island or this bar that's out there could grow. It could connect with land. It could become smaller. It could disappear entirely. So if you're around the Outer Banks this summer, I would definitely suggest trying to take a trip down to Cape Point to see this amazing formation.

SIEGEL: Dave Hallac, superintendent of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina - Dave, thanks for speaking with us.

HALLAC: It's been my pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.