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Getting off the Point – Our New Famous Island

Saturday 01 July 2017 at 11:38 pm.

So I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s a new island off the Point.

And it’s attracted just a little bit of attention.

The island – (or sandbar depending on who you ask... and depending on the tide for that matter) – has been dominating national and even international headlines. If you do a Google News Search for “New Island,” you’ll see dozens of listings that features the now famous photo taken by Connecticut visitor Chad Koczera.

Here’s just a sample of the magazines, newspapers, and media outlets that have covered this less-than-a-mile long spot in Buxton: National Geographic, CBS News, ABC News, Good Morning America, CNN, Fox News, BBC, The Telegraph, News and Observer, Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, The Weather Channel, Huffington Post, USA Today, the

Smithsonian, and NPR – which interviewed our Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent Dave Hallac in a recent segment for “All Things Considered.”

You could easily go on, but you get the Point – and so does everyone else.

In essence, our island was ridiculously famous this week.

So considering this newfound fame, the question that’s been circling in many local conversations is simple – Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Getting off the Point – Our New Famous Island

Click To Enlarge.

There’s been plenty of debates throughout the island – from social media to local watering holes – about whether it’s great to be this famous, (at least for this week.) And when it comes down to it, there are arguments to be made on both sides of the fence.

What’s Great About the New Island’s Notoriety

I think everyone can agree that it’s pretty fantastic that Hatteras Island is in the news for something that is not hurricane related.

Normally, when we see our hometown in the national news, it’s a clear sign that it’s time to get out of dodge, because a hurricane or storm is approaching, and the results aren’t going to be pretty.

This is one of the few times in recent memory that Hatteras Island has been highlighted for something amazing, and it’s wonderful for our tourism industry.

Both local motels and vacation rental companies reported a big uptick in calls and requests this past week, and our area has been broadcasted to literally countless people all across the world – people who would have otherwise never known that a skinny little barrier island named Hatteras even existed.

There’s also something deliciously fun about reading these stories and seeing what various articles may have gotten right or wrong. Several headlines went for a “danger” angle, like “New island appears off North Carolina coast, tourists rowing over despite warnings” and “North Carolina has a new island, but think twice before visiting,” and at least one article I’ve seen has a picture of an island with a palm tree and a rocky coast, which I’m pretty sure isn’t a local shot.

Then there’s the comments sections for these stories. I can’t even tell you how many political comments there are about our new island, but it’s actually quite funny that a sandbar in Buxton can lead to a ridiculously heated political discussion. (It’s an island. It does not have a party affiliation.)

So for a noticeable boost in tourism – and for sheer entertainment value – the island is quite incredible.

But, with notoriety comes issues, and there are a few problems with literally landing on the international map.

What’s Not So Great About the New Island’s Notoriety

Up until this week, the only way to access the Point since late March was via a 4WD vehicle. But now that the ORV Corridor has been removed, both pedestrians and ORVs can head to the Point and make the trek across the channel of water to reach the new island.

And that can cause a problem.

“We’re aware of at least eight rescues that have occurred in the last several weeks at the new island,” says Dave Hallac, Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent. “These [calls] include people who are unable to get off the island, or people trying to swim back being caught by currents, or people getting caught in deeper waters.”

The island may be fine to swim to during low tide on a clear day with little to no wind – Many people have, and it’s just a quick paddle across deeper waters until you get to the sandbar where you can stand and walk the rest of the way. But that’s during absolutely perfect and ideal conditions.

The conditions change when there’s wind, a high tide, a current, and any other number of factors that can derail a trip across the water. And this is in addition to fish hooks, rays, and the potential presence of sharks – there’s a reason why the Point is considered one of the best fishing destination on the East Coast, after all.

And folks who have never been here may not be familiar with swimming or navigating through ocean waters – let alone waters that can change on a dime like the ones that buffer the Point.

On top of that, in the past week, you’ve also heard the argument that the Point is already pretty crowded – especially during the height of summer, when the 4th of July holiday attracts anglers from all over the country for a long weekend of fishing. The Point can only accommodate so many vehicles, after all, and if waves of people come down to visit, could they possible all fit?

Part of the reason why people adore Hatteras Island is because it’s so isolated, and kind of a “hidden gem” along the Carolina coastline – (we’re no Myrtle Beach, that’s for sure.) And there is a little concern that this sudden burst of fame may make us less isolated, less quiet, and more like other vacation destinations in terms of crowds.

Then there’s also the potential issue that drones are illegal in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and yet this island is attracting a wave of photographers, although this issue can get a little hairy. For one thing, the island isn’t technically part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore – it’s owned by the state of North Carolina, per Hallac. For another, while you can’t launch from the seashore, it’s OK to launch from a boat in the island-bordering waters, (which appeared to be the case with the famous aerial photo.)

So there’s good things and bad things about being famous, but what about the island itself? Does it live up to the hype?

Earlier this week, the Island Free Press team took a very essential and solely work-related trip to the Point to see the island for ourselves. (OK, and we also wanted to slack off for a little bit to go to the beach, and hopefully get lots of shells.)

The name “Shelly Island” – which was originally given to the island by a visitor in a quote for the Virginia Pilot, and which has been picked up by virtually every news source since – is an apt one, even if it’s totally not official.

This island is packed with whelks, olive shells, moon shells, and more, and even though our crew got there hours after the beaches had been scoured to death by adventurous beachcombers, we still got more than our fair share of treasures – and some really sore feet from walking on the shell piles.

The trek to get there wasn’t that bad at all – (we were there on one of those aforementioned “perfect conditions” days) – and by the time we left at around 7:00 p.m., the crowds had shuttled out for the day, and the Point was relatively quiet.

But even on a “perfect condition” day, you could see how a new explorer could get into trouble. I swear that I jumped every time I saw something that even moderately resembled a shadow – even when I was in ankle deep water. And at exactly low tide, there was still a short but very deep channel where you couldn’t touch bottom, and where if there was a strong current, it would be tricky to navigate through.

So personally, the presence of this island is amazing for obsessive beachcombing types like yours truly. But I would heed virtually every single organization’s advice when it comes to accessing it – from the National Park Service, to the Hatteras Island Rescue Squad who recently had to rescue five people off the island last weekend.

1. Get to the island with a paddle board, surfboard, or kayak.
2. Watch for rip currents through the channel at dangerous speeds
3. Watch for fish hooks, and other debris – (I can tell you personally that water shoes would have come in handy to deal with the shell pieces)
4. Go with a buddy. It cuts your chances of getting bit by a shark in half. (OK, I made the second half of that one up.)

Just use common sense, and encourage other people on the beach to do the same is the general idea.

And whether you should try to go in the first place, well, I think Dave Hallac said it best in his recent interview with NPR, which can be found here: http://www.npr.org/2017/06/28/534764979/new-island-surfaces-along-coast-of-north-carolinas-outer-banks.

SIEGEL: Should people who want to see Shelly Island do so in a hurry because it might go away just the way it popped up?

HALLAC: You know, I would say that getting to Cape Point and seeing Cape Point absolutely is something they should try to do during times that it's accessible. It's very possible that Shelly Island or this bar that's out there could grow. It could connect with land. It could become smaller. It could disappear entirely. So if you're around the Outer Banks this summer, I would definitely suggest trying to take a trip down to Cape Point to see this amazing formation.

Chances are, that in a couple weeks, the island will be “old news.” Even hot topics don’t stay in the headlines for long, and we’ll likely lose our notoriety as fast as it came.

But in the meantime, it sure is amazing that there’s a new beach that everyone in the world is seemingly fascinated with, and wants to talk about, and wants to visit – and we get to enjoy it in our own backyard.

fourteen comments

Salvo Jimmy

Wonder if Ch 3 got permission for the Drone 3 video I’ve seen on Facebook?

Salvo Jimmy - 02-07-’17 01:04
Stan Ulanski

Cape Point is and has been a dynamic coastal feature, changing over time and in spatial dimensions. The new island is the result of nearshore processes, such as wave interaction and longshore currents, not the
result of offshore features, including the Gulf Stream. This current is a deep flowing “river” in the ocean that does not flow over the
relatively shallow continental shelf, thus being restricted to the deeper
continental slope, which is miles from the coast.

Stan Ulanski - 03-07-’17 23:31
bud

It’s just a sandbar folks.

bud - 04-07-’17 14:00
Lowtide

Is the island part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore or will it fall outside the boundaries of the NPS and become the jurisdiction of the state of North Carolina.

Lowtide - 07-07-’17 03:28
Bud

It’s a sandbar, not an island!

Bud - 07-07-’17 12:56
Salvo Jimmy

Yep Bud and bud.

All the hype it’s getting says it’s been a real slow news cycle, with Trump not hitting twitter very much.

Maybe next time I see one of these “islands” off of Salvo at low tide, I’ll give NBC/ABC a call.

Salvo Jimmy - 07-07-’17 18:15
Rexcraigo

Thanks Bud. No one had pointed that out yet.

Dumbass.

Rexcraigo - 08-07-’17 18:26
diver531

Visitors don’t think as it is cause it’s vacation time …ohhh boy seas shells . Hopefully NPS doesn’t shut things down because of all the rescues they’ve had to do ! Hey , think about this as an income draw for the island !

diver531 - 09-07-’17 15:55
Hondo7

the “island” has been there for ever, it’s just another example of the sea level dropping

Hondo7 - 10-07-’17 14:14
Bud

Correct Rexcraigo (signing off as dumbass). Everyone has been calling it an island rather than what it really is.

Bud - 10-07-’17 14:58
salvo jimmy

Bud and bud,

Looks like there is now a T-Shirt. Be sure to get one before they (and the sandbar) are gone. heh heh heh

https://www.facebook.com/OBXII/photos/a.275158322555589.63492.275115475893207/1559857304085678/?type=3&theater

salvo jimmy - 10-07-’17 15:06
Lowtide

In a July 9th article in the Virginia Pilot the island is owned by Dare Co. and North Carolina until it connects with land according to GPS superintendent Dave Hallac.

Lowtide - 11-07-’17 14:27
Salvo Jimmy

From NCBBA and similar post by NPS

With access to Cape Point only open along the shoreline, it is imperative that drivers air down before attempting the drive out to the Point and Shelly Island.

This is currently creating a significant problem. Dozens of folks are getting stuck in soft sand that is constantly being churned up around the ramp and the Narrows. This causes travel delays for visitors. Additionally, the over-inflated tires are causing deep ruts that make it difficult for lower clearance vehicles to pass safely.

You should not attempt to negotiate this stretch of beach without reducing your tire pressure and maintaining the posted speed limits along the beach, 15 mph and a reduction to 5 mph when in the area of pedestrians. Passage through the Narrows is pretty much down to one lane and both care and courtesy should be exercised when passing through this area.

Salvo Jimmy - 27-07-’17 00:17

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