When it comes to vacation destinations, beach lovers will be hard-pressed to find a better spot to soak up the sun, surf and sand than the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Stretching nearly 200 miles from Carova Beach to Ocracoke Island, the Outer Banks comprises barrier islands composed of constantly shifting shoals and sandbars. Earlier this year, a brand-new island emerged off the coast of Cape Point on Hatteras Island—one of the most dynamic regions along the entire Outer Banks. Named Shelly Island for the abundance of seashells visitors to this recently exposed sandbar encountered as they strolled its shores, the new island has started to make waves among Outer Banks locals and vacationers alike.
The story of Shelly Island begins in April, when a thin strip of sand began to become visible just off the southern shoreline of Cape Point. Because this area is the spot where the Gulfstream and the Labrador Current converge, Cape Point is no stranger to sudden changes in the hidden shoals that lie beneath the shallow salty water. Marking the southernmost point of the Graveyard of the Atlantic, the waters off Cape Hatteras National Seashore are sprinkled with the wreckage of thousands of sunken ships that ran aground on the treacherous shoals over the course of the past several centuries.
While most sandbars that become exposed during constantly changing conditions around Cape Point are quickly covered again in just a few days or weeks, Shelly Island continued to grow larger and larger as spring turned into summer. Noticing the rapid expansion of the new island off the coast—and just how close it was to Cape Point—Outer Banks beachgoers began to make the journey through the relatively shallow waters that extend between the two islands via kayaks and standup paddleboards. Those brave enough to take on the strong and often dangerous currents that sweep along the shoreline of Cape Hatteras swam or waded to the new island to scope it out for themselves.
What was found on the mile-long island caused a young beachgoer to nickname the sandbar Shelly Island—and the name stuck. As word spread of the hundreds of shells that litter this island that once sat deep beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, adventurous shelling enthusiasts showed up by the dozens to stroll the beach and add items to their collections. But seashells weren’t the only notable finds on Shelly Island. According to National Geographic, the surf has also washed a variety of other interesting objects onto the beach, including whale bones and shards of centuries-old shipwrecks.
From fishermen to history buffs to shell-seekers, there is something unique for every ocean lover to find on a trip to the Outer Banks’ newest island. But because of the strong and unpredictable currents Cape Point is known for, those who make a journey to Shelly Island this season are encouraged to exercise extreme caution when venturing out to the sandbar. If you’re planning to visit Shelly Island for yourself, you’d better act fast: like the hundreds of shifting sandbars along the Graveyard of the Atlantic that came before it and then suddenly disappeared beneath the white-capped waves, Shelly Island likely won’t stick around forever.