The Outer Banks has a new attraction this summer: an island. A mile long and three football fields wide. Just off the tip of Cape Point, the world-famous surf-fishing site near the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
“Yeah, isn’t it crazy?” visitor Janice Regan said. “It was just a little bump in April.”
She and her 11-year-old grandson Caleb searched it Memorial Day for seashells. Caleb christened it “Shelly Island” for the loads of large, unblemished whelks and other shells they found.
They are not the only ones exploring the surprise sandbar.
It is attracting anglers, seashell collectors, adventurers, photographers and the plain curious. The “Shelly Island” name is spreading on social media.
Getting there is not without dangers. The ocean breaks one way on the east shore of the point and in the opposite direction on the southern shore. A flow as powerful as a rip current and about 50 yards wide rushes between the point and the new island.
People should not try to walk or swim across in that current, warned Dave Hallac, superintendent of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore which oversees Cape Point.
There could be even more hazards. Hooks from decades of fishing could be lying on the bottom, said Bill Smith, president of the North Carolina Beach Buggy Association. Sharks up to 5 feet long and stingrays as large as the hood of a truck have been spotted prowling beneath the surface, he said.
“We’re worried about shark bites, but we’re more worried about drownings,” Smith said.
Travis Philips struggled Monday to paddle his rubber raft across the inlet’s stiff current back to where his friend Madalyn Eads waited. She had sent him across the hazardous inlet first to make sure it could be done safely. It was fun, he told her.
“I love that island,” Philips said. “That’s where all the shells are.”
The big sandbar has changed old habits. On Monday, most of the anglers worked the shore closer to the main beach and away from the rushing inlet while the tip was occupied more by people headed to the new island.
Cape Point is a constantly changing spit of sand of about 100 acres, Hallac said. Sometimes the tip points south and sometimes it points north. The land shrinks and expands depending on currents and storms. The same forces likely formed the sandbar, Hallac said.
Shelly Island could shrink or even disappear by next year, or it could expand and connect to the point, he said. The popular spot could reach out further into the ocean and make the fishing even better, Smith said.
Cape Point is open later in the season than it has been in years, Hallac said. It typically closes in the spring when birds and turtles begin nesting.
Accessibility also is better than years past. A new bypass road allows traffic to rumble behind the dunes to the point rather than try to make it across the narrow beach that nearly disappears at high tide. New rules fully implemented last year shrunk buffers around the nests, permitting drivers easier entry.