Shelly Island is no longer an island, NASA says

Shelly Island is no longer an island. (Photo: NASA's Operational Land Imager (OLI) on the Landsat 8 satellite, acquired February 16, 2018)

Shelly Island, the popular sandbar that formed off the coast of North Carolina last spring, is no longer an island.

New photos released by NASA's Landsat 8 satellite shows the island has disappeared from its spot 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," NASA said. "They were right. Since then, a series of storms has redistributed the sand and the so-called 'Shelly Island' is no longer an island."

Experts are still unsure of why the island formed in the first place, with some scientists speculating that the weather was "just right" for the island at the time.

"Winds were strong enough to stir up the waves and currents that carry sand alongshore from the more northerly barrier islands toward the cape," NASA said. "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 reason for the island's disappearance is more clear, NASA said. Erosion is a common occurrence on barrier islands like Shelly. A slew of hurricanes, including Irma and Jose in early September, and Hurricane Maria later that month only fueled its eventual demise.

"According to news reports, the storms split the island; one half became connected to the tip of the cape, while the other tiny remnant remained isolated," NASA said. "Winter storms continued to batter what was left of the island and wash it away."

While its fame was short-lived, Shelly Island will be remembered as the newest hot spot for water-loving locals and tourists alike. Visitors enjoyed their time there, collecting sea shells and enjoying long walks on the beach. The small strip of land even got its fair share of excitement when a World War II-era military training device washed up on its shores.

Though Shelly Island is gone for now, NASA said swift changes are common along barrier island systems. With waves and currents constantly redistributing land-building materials, the possibility for something similar is always out there.

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