North Carolinas Outer Banks
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North Carolina's Outer Banks

September 14, 2005
The Outer Banks are a series of barrier islands along the coast of North Carolina stretching from just below Virginia Beach to Portsmouth Island. These long, thin strips of beach and dunes separate the Atlantic Ocean from inland bays or “sounds”. Barrier islands much like these dot the coastline of the Eastern seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico. Barrier islands are dynamic systems, formed thousands of years ago by alluvial (river-borne) sediment and maintained by the deposition of sand from waves and undersea currents. Most barrier islands have a similar structure: they consist of a beach that borders open water, a sand dune that separates the beach from a mud flat, which in turn separates the dune from the salt marsh behind it. Grasses typically grow on the dunes, stabilizing them from wind and storms; these grasses are very fragile, and if disturbed, will no longer hold sand in place. The marshes behind the barrier islands are highly productive ecosystems and provide habitat for many species of wildlife. The islands themselves buffer the coastline from hurricane damage, protecting both wildlife and coastal development.

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