A new island has appeared off the coast of North Carolina!
Now, don’t get us wrong, this island didn’t just form spontaneously like something in a Disney movie.
“Shelly” Island, as the island was nicknamed by a tourist and her son after they collected seashells along its shore, was first spotted as a small bump in the water in April. The island is visible from North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras National Seashore, a national park that has seen a huge spike in visitors since pictures of the breathtaking new island went viral on Instagram.
Let’s take a look at the intricate, yet simple, process that results in a brand new piece of land…
The Secret of the Sandbar
So how exactly did this island- which is being called both Hatteras island or Shelly island- form?
As a matter of fact, islands like this form all the time. It is all based on water movement and the formation of sandbars. You might have encountered a sandbar if you were ever boating and the ocean or lake suddenly became really shallow really quick. You probably had to turn around so you didn’t get stuck.
Sandbars are formed by waves offshore from a beach. When waves are pulled back into the ocean, they move the sediment on the ocean floor, even loosening some of the extremely compact sediment at the very bottom. When the wave heads back to the shore, some of the sediment remains floating and eventually settles. This is the beginning of the sandbar. Each time this process occurs, sediment is added to the sandbar, and it grows in size.
Sometimes, enough sediment builds up that a land mass is formed, like the one off the coast of North Carolina. It’s easiest to see sandbars in stormy weather when the waves are crashing against it, however, the tops are usually still submerged underwater. In calmer seas, you can see the tops of the sandbar.
Shelly island is about a mile long and 480 feet wide, but the distance varies based on the tides and weather conditions, and it is separated from the mainland by a 330 foot wide channel. This beautiful new island seems to be full of intrigue as well, as local historians have disclosed that it is littered with old shipwrecks and whale bones.
Don’t get too excited about trying to go explore this new island, though. While it might not seem like a very long distance from the shore, experts are warning visitors to the area not to try to swim to the island. This is due to the fact that there have been shark and stingray sightings, as well as strong currents that could pose a risk to swimmers. Luckily, there are opportunities to kayak to the island for those with the urge to see the island up close.
This island is yet another example of the incredible things our Earth can create...