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Pea Island, Oregon Inlet, and Bodie Island, North Carolina, are severely human-modified barrier-island segments that are central to an age-old controversy pitting natural barrier-island dynamics against the economic development of coastal North Carolina. Bodie Island extends for 15 km from the Nags Head–Kitty Hawk urban area to the north shore of Oregon Inlet and is part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Pea Island extends 19.3 km from the southern shore of Oregon Inlet to Rodanthe Village and is the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Bodie and Pea Islands evolved as classic inlet- and overwash-dominated (transgressive) simple barrier islands that are now separated by Oregon Inlet. The inlet was opened in 1846 by a hurricane and subsequently migrated 3.95 km past its present location by 1989. With construction of coastal Highway 12 on Bodie and Pea Islands (1952) and the Oregon Inlet bridge (1962–1963), this coastal segment has become a critical link for the Outer Banks economy and eight beach communities that occur from Rodanthe to Ocracoke. The ongoing natural processes have escalated efforts to stabilize these dynamic islands and associated inlet in time and space by utilizing massive rock jetties and revetments, kilometers of sand bags and constructed dune ridges, and extensive beach nourishment projects. As the coastal system responds to ongoing processes of rising sea level and storm dynamics, efforts to engineer fixes are increasing and now constitute a “human hurricane” that pits conventional utilization of the barriers against the natural coastal system dynamics that maintain barrier-island integrity over the long term.

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