Pea Island: An Inlet on the Move….WITH SLIDE SHOW
By IRENE NOLAN
The inlet created at mid-Pea Island by Hurricane Irene has been on the
move since the storm hit Hatteras Island on Aug. 27, almost six months
The changes at the inlet have been documented by Island Free Press
photographer Don Bowers in a series of aerial photos that he has taken
since two days after the hurricane.
Pea Island Inlet is moving south at a rate that has concerned both the
North Carolina Department of Transportation and the Cape Hatteras
At several times since the storm, the inlet has come perilously close
to the CHEC power poles that carry the transmission lines that bring
power to Hatteras and Ocracoke. The power poles have been
sandbagged, then moved and sunk in cement deeper in the sand.
Currently, they are not threatened.
Also, late last month, DOT crews began reinforcing the inlet’s south
shore with rock and metal sheet piling to stem erosion that could
undermine the temporary bridge. A total of 200 truck loads of stone and
100 feet of sheeting are expected to be used to secure the shoreline.
Other changes are apparent in the aerial photos over the past six
Earlier this week, Dr. Stan Riggs, distinguished research professor and
Harriot College distinguished professor in the geological science
department at East Carolina University, made some observations about
the island’s newest inlet during a community forum in Buxton.
Riggs, who has probably studied barrier island geology longer than any
other scientist, and his colleagues at ECU -- Dorothea V. Ames,
research instructor; Stephen J. Culver, Harriot College distinguished
professor and chair, and David J. Mallinson, associate professor – made
several presentations this week, based on their newly released book,
“The Battle for North Carolina’s Coast.”
Many of us have seen Riggs’ presentation before since he’s been
researching coastal areas for more than four decades and written
several other books. And we’ve heard his message – that we live in one
of the most dynamic places on earth.
That’s no surprise to anyone who lives on Hatteras and Ocracoke or who
visits here regularly. Northeasters and tropical systems are
constantly shaping and reshaping the barrier islands.
“All of Pea Island has been an inlet in the past – not once, not twice,
but numerous times,” Riggs said.
In fact, the new Pea Island Inlet is located just a quarter mile from
where New Inlet breached the island in the 1930s. That inlet
eventually closed on its own, but the remnants of the bridge that was
built over it are still visible on the soundside of Highway 12.
“This is a very small inlet,” Riggs said about our newest
And a colleague added that in his research he had come across early
surveys of Oregon Inlet, which was cut by a hurricane in 1846. At that
time, he said it also was a small inlet, which has grown over the
decades to a large, dynamic inlet that is critical to the commercial
and recreational fishing economy of coastal North Carolina.
Riggs noted that Bowers’ aerial photos show that the inlet is full of
sand and that a flood-tide delta has developed on its backside.
The months since the hurricane, Riggs said, have been warm and not
stormy and the inlet’s future depends on storm dynamics.
“If we go for a good period of time (without a storm),” he said, “the
inlet has good potential to close down by itself.”
However, if we are plagued by northeasters and tropical systems in the
near future, they will continue to clear out the inlet and keep it open.
Such are the dynamics of a barrier island, which is always on the move.
Currently, NCDOT is studying long-term solutions to bridging Pea Island
Inlet and an inlet that also opened during Hurricane Irene at another
problematic area of the island, at the S-curves north of Rodanthe.
Hurricane Irene also cleared out Oregon Inlet and Hatteras Inlet, which
have both been plagued with shoaling in the recent past.
However, the calm period since the storm has contributed to more
shoaling problems at both inlets.
Currently, the passage through Oregon Inlet is so shallow that it is
problematic for big trawlers going to and from Wanchese.
And Rollinson Channel in Hatteras Inlet, used by the state ferries and
local commercial and charter fishing boats, has gotten shallow enough
to interfere with both ferry operations and the passage of the fishing
The last two photos in the accompanying slide show show quite clearly
shoaling in Hatteras Inlet, especially the last shot of Rollinson
Channel with a narrow ribbon of dark, deeper water being encroached on
by the shoals, which are lighter in color.
Bowers will continue to document the changes at Pea Island Inlet when
he takes to the skies with local pilot Dwight Burrus of Burrus
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