Thinking of visiting NC’s mysterious Shelly island for Spring Break? Think again.

Thinking of visiting NC’s mysterious Shelly island for Spring Break? Think again.
Photo by Chad Koczera
(Photo courtesy of NASA)
(Photo courtesy of NASA)

CHARLOTTE, NC (Mark Price/The Charlotte Observer) - Anyone thinking of visiting North Carolina's newly formed Shelly Island during upcoming Spring Break needs to rethink their plans.

New photos from NASA's Landsat 8 satellite show the island is no longer sitting just off Cape Point at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

"When a sandbar developed off the shore of North Carolina's barrier islands in spring 2017, some experts said that the feature was likely to be short-lived. They were right," says NASA. "Since then, a series of storms has redistributed the sand and the so-called 'Shelly Island' is no longer an island."

The reasons for the island's formation and evolution are complex and not entirely clear, says NASA. Coastal scientists speculate weather conditions were just right in 2017.

"Winds were strong enough to stir up the waves and currents that carry sand alongshore from the more northerly barrier islands toward the cape," says NASA. "Then winds became calm enough for that sand transport to be halted by obstacles such as circular currents within Hatteras Bight and the expansive shoals of the cape. Sand accumulated, an island grew, and tourists flocked to the area to witness the spectacle."

The hook-shaped island – or sandbar as sticklers insisted – first appeared in the fall of 2016 and grew to more than 20 acres, according to some reports.

NASA says the reasons for the island's demise are clearer: Erosion caused by a series of hurricanes, including Irma and Jose in early September, and Hurricane Maria later that month.

The storms first split the island, with one half connecting to the mainland. The other tiny remnant remained isolated and winter storms continued to batter what was left of the island and wash it away, says NASA.

Such swift changes are common on the state's barrier island systems, say experts. In this case, the island got big enough to become a tourist attraction, with many noting it was filled with unique and well preserved sea shells.

A Virginia businessman even went to so far as to file a Quit Claim Deed to the island, claiming he owned it. Kenneth M. Barlow said the deed gave him "all right, title, interest and claim to the island," and he put up signs and planted sea grass to keep it from washing away. His claim was disputed by the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Barlow told the Observer in October that he sold the island to a Chinese company with ties to Canada, perhaps in humor.

If that's true, the Chinese could be waiting a long time to make sure of their now invisible property.