The Outer Banks’ Shelly Island is no longer an island as of last week.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent Dave Hallac said Cape Point is now connected to Shelly Island at low tide — as the shallow area between the two landmasses has filled with sand.
Shelly Island's recent connection to land, however, is not as dramatic as it sounds, he said.
“It's an extremely dynamic location,” Hallac said.
He said the area's dynamic nature is due in part to the two ocean currents that converge off of the Outer Banks' shores. These currents — the Labrador and Gulf Stream currents — come together on the East Coast, Hallac said.
"The sand is constantly redistributing, reshaping and sometimes eroding from the beaches,” he said. “It’s not a linear process.”
Hallac said the area around Shelly Island is always changing.
“We’ve watched Shelly Island come close to Cape Point, then move away, then come close again,” he said. “It’s likely to detach again.”
Lee Nettles, executive director at the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, said it’s safe to say a lot of tourism growth — or at least a portion of it — can be attributed to the public’s fascination with Shelly Island.
“I have heard from (The U.S. National Park Service) that the number of off-road vehicle permits has run dramatically,” he said.
Nettles said the island's occupancy collections were up 9.2 percent over the same time period a year prior, from January through July.
Shelly Island has always had a positive impact on tourism, connected to land or not, he said.
“It seems to have really sparked the public’s fascination with the natural setting of the Outer Banks,” Nettles said. “The fact that it’s reconnected is just kind of further evidence of that dynamic environment. So while it’s reconnected today, who knows about tomorrow.”
Nettles said the Outer Banks' enduring popularity may be due to its uniqueness.
"The area that we're in, half of the county is actually water; it's kind of wacky," he said. "Of course there's water everywhere. The winds blow a little bit harder; the surf is bigger. It's a front row seat to Mother Nature's show."
The Cape Hatteras National Seashore itself is beloved by visitors because it is always evolving, Hallac said.
"Not only is it the site of a lot of important firsts — like man’s first powered flight with the Wright Brothers and first national seashore Cape Hatteras — there’s just a sense here that the shoreline and the environment are alive, ever-changing," Nettles said.
He said no matter how many times a person has been there before, there is always a sense of change.
"I think it reminds people that they’re alive, too,” Nettles said.
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