September 14, 2017

Dynamic Shelly Island Sandbar Connecting to Cape Point


The roughly week-long period of rough surf from Hurricane Irma has brought more than just great waves to the popular Shelly Island sandbar – it’s also brought some dramatic changes to the long formation off of Cape Point.

Most noticeably, it appears that the sandbar is finally connecting to the rest of Cape Point at low tide – at least for now.

“It appears that at low tide there is no water anymore between the sandbar and Cape Point,” says Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent, Dave Hallac. “What happened is over the past few days, the sandbar has moved further and further to the west, and last night it curved around and made an area where it connected at low tide.”

The part where Shelly Island is connecting is at the southwest corner, or the westernmost part of the sandbar / island, although it appears as if the entire formation is noticeably closer to the rest of The Point.

“The swell and waves from Irma is constantly shifting the bar to the west,” says Hallac, “but this could always change in just 24 hours.”

In addition to the new low tide connection, visitors to the Shelly Island sandbar over the past several days also caught another unique change to the landscape. A pond that was located on the edge of the Point and which was close to the ocean opened up, pouring water into the channel that separates the sandbar from the rest of Hatteras Island.

“A large pond of water is typical after heavy rains on Cape Point,” says Hallac, “but [earlier this week], it had broken through and drained into the channel… It was about 20-25 feet wide and 6-12” deep when I was first there, and as of this morning, it was still draining.”

Changes to Shelly Island have been common over the summer, with the sandbar steadily growing in size since it was first identified in the spring of 2017.

However, the multiple days of high waves and surf have brought the most dramatic changes in recent memory, and has inevitably led to its connection at low tide.

“Here’s what we know,” says Hallac when asked what will happen if the connection becomes permanent. “We know whether it’s connected or not connected, it’s either National Park Service property, or the property of the State of North Carolina. Our current understanding is that it belongs to the state of North Carolina.”

“From the Park Service perspective, it really doesn’t matter right now [who owns it],” he says. “We have a wonderful relationship with the State of North Carolina…  In the end, we may end up with an agreement to jointly manage it, if it’s still there next summer.”

There’s no way to know how Shelly Island sandbar may change in the coming months, weeks, or even days, but for now, frequent visitors are surprised to see such a dramatic difference to a sandbar that has slowly changed all summer long.

“Every time I go out there, it’s different, but it’s still amazing,” says Hallac. “It’s just so beautiful to see the bar, the water in between, and all the families enjoying it. It’s a very happy place to be.”

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