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North Carolina’s New Mystery Island Retreats Back into the Sea

The saga of the curious new island which appeared last year off the coast of North Carolina has come to a fittingly mysterious end. In the summer of 2017, residents of and visitors to the Outer Banks noticed a large landmass rising from the ocean floor near Cape Hatteras, NC, not far from the site of the infamous lost colony at Roanoke. The island eventually grew to 27 acres (11 hectares) and became a source of wonder for tourists and locals alike. Still, the island wasn’t without its negatives: shark infestations, riptides, and the unpredictability of a rapidly-evolving new landmass.

The island has been growing throughout 2017.

The island grew steadily throughout 2017.

The island grew stranger as it rose from the water, earning the nickname “Shelly Island” due to the abundance of seashells which washed up on the virgin island. Aside from shells, the island revealed a bounty of curiosities and oddities from the ocean floor including model bombs and real bombs used in US Navy exercises and barnacle-encrusted maritime instruments from bygone eras. To add to the mystery surrounding Shelly Island, images taken by the Landsat 8 satellite operated by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey reveal the island has retreated back into the sea as quickly as it rose from it.

Geologists and oceanologists still aren’t sure why the island formed in the first place, and are similarly unsure as to why it recently disappeared. It’s thought that disruptions to currents caused by several recent hurricanes and storms could have contributed to erosion. Shelly, we hardly knew ye.

The strange and short-lived appearance of Shelly Island really makes you wonder about the ephemerality of all of Earth’s landmasses. Put in context aside legends of Atlantis and similar lost structures or civilizations, Shelly Island suggests that our planet cares little for the efforts of men who and will reshape herself as natural forces see fit. Will the next island to disappear be a populated one? Will we ever see Shelly again? Nature is a cruel mistress.