Beach Erosion of the Outer Banks

While major weather events have a rejuvenating effect on some wildlife, large storms are the major cause of beach erosion in the Outer Banks.  The shoreline of the Pea Island for example is receding at a rate of 4 meters a year (Riggs 44). To help preserve these treasured islands government agencies meticulously preserves the dunes that protect the shore line. Usually this activity involves the maintenance of highway 12 which some see as the backbone that hold the islands together.



Ghost Crab

Shoreline Erosion



Some find the existence of the smaller islands of the Outer Banks is due in whole to the maintenance of the highway; without it the smaller islands would have washed away. Conversely, it is possible that the highway itself is the cause of some of the erosion (Riggs 47). Although the highway may seem to hold the shore line, as the sand is pushed back after the storms, the artificial dunes that are formed result in the steeper beaches and deprive the back barrier of over washed sand that would naturally occur after a storm. The result is a narrowing on the island.


Although highway 12 is essential to economic development in the Outer Banks, the very existence of the islands is dependent on our acceptance of the natural processes of barrier islands. As the sand covers the highways and the island boarder naturally move back, development should move also. Buildings that were constructed decades ago when the shore line was different should be moved to a more natural position. Roads that are continually cover by sand should be moved to higher elevations.


The most important solution is the authority of the National Wildlife Refuge of Pea Island. It is in the best interest of all to let the barrier islands function naturally. However it is expected that those with developmental interest will do all they can to maintain the highway and other structures as they are now. To maintain a healthy coastal system, strong public support is needed to overcome economic pressures and natural growth limits must be respected.