CAPE POINT, N.C. — NASA recently released images that show the formation of North Carolina’s “Shelly Island.”
The Landsat 8 satellite’s first photo was captured in November 2016. In the second image, taken in January 2017, waves could be seen breaking on the shallow region off Cape Point’s tip. The site of the breaking waves is where the third and final image was taken.
Andrew Ashton, a geomorphologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, speculates that the mile-long shallow region became exposed due to a “high tide or storm-driven water elevation that piled up sediment near the surface.” But he admits it is difficult to know how the island formed without observation.
While it’s mostly unknown how “Shelly Island” formed, the phenomenon is not entirely uncommon. NASA says Cape Lookout has had several islands form on its shoal over the past decade.
The agency also says that the shoreline and cape tips along North Carolina’s barrier islands are constantly in motion and changing.
“Tidal flows moving up and down the coast are diverted by the capes and result in a net offshore current at cape tips and deposition at the shoals,” Ashton said. “Occasionally, a portion of the shoal becomes exposed and forms an island.”
“Shelly Island” received its unofficial nickname because it is considered to be a perfect spot to collect seashells.