Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Shackleford Banks

Shackleford Banks is one of the barrier islands that protects the North Carolina mainland from the sea. On one side of the island lies the open Atlantic Ocean; on the other, a shallow sound. That sound might be considered an extension of southernmost Core Sound, but it's "Back Sound" on maps.

The sound is full of seafood: blue crabs, shrimp, jumping mullet, flounder, oysters, clams, Norfolk spots, croakers, and closer to the inlets, bluefish and Spanish mackerel. Some fairly hefty sharks find their way into the sound as well; you should not be overly shocked to see the odd 8-10 foot bull shark paddling around. On our visit last year, Leece was treated to a very nice specimen of a bonnethead shark swimming by just a few feet from the soundside beach.There is also this gallery of photos of dozens of what appear to be bull sharks just off Carrot Island and Bird Shoals, inside Beaufort Inlet, in August 2009.

The island is named after John Shackleford, who was deeded the property sometime around 1713-1723. The land was transferred among the Shacklefords, eventually leaving their hold around 1805.

Now, it's part of Cape Lookout National Seashore, and lies in close proximity to the Rachel Carson National Estuarine Reserve. Rachel Carson, you will recall, is the author of "The Silent Spring". She did much of her research here.

The westernmost end of the island forms one side of Beaufort Inlet. The other side of the inlet is formed by Bogue Banks, with Fort Macon State Park and a Coast Guard station right at that end. (That link is dated - the cutter Chilula was decommissioned in 1991 - but the history is interesting.) The Newport River empties into the inlet; with the river outflow and tidal changes, the water is often very "active" even without wind stirring it up. There is a shallow bay on the sound side of the island, just up from Beaufort Inlet. This is a great place for wading and finding and observing critters, though at low tide is it is mostly out of the water. At the eastern end of that bay a maritime forest begins to rise, growing into extensive forest growth in the middle of the island. Leece has some great shots of moss-covered oaks, yaupon, and other vegetation in this forest.

The principle wildlife feature has to be the wild horses. We got a lot of pictures of these beasts. If you go to the gallery about Cape Lookout, you'll see some of the horses swimming in the sound. These photos are from the other end of the island, near Barden's Inlet, on the east end of the island. The horses are descended from Spanish mustangs, possibly survivors of shipwreck or failed colonies.

At one time, a whaling community existed at what is now the eastern end of Shackleford Banks. The island was connected to Core Banks, as one island, until the hurricane of 1933 cut the island, forming a new inlet. Barden's Inlet is named after the state senator who obtained funding to dredge a boat (if not a ship) channel in the new inlet. Diamond City was essentially destroyed by the hurricane of 1899, and by 1902 was pretty much abandoned.

Today, you can get to Shackleford in the same manner as you get to Cape Lookout - small craft ferries, or private boat. We used Outerbanks Ferry Service in Beaufort, across from the North Carolina Maritime Museum.

Here is a good map and satellite shot of the Cape Lookout/Core Banks/Shackleford Island area.

We walked from the ferry drop off point along the sound side to the maritime forest, through the forest to the ocean side, and back down the beach to the ferry point. That route is about 7 miles, factoring in all the detours and side trips. It was a good hike, with lots of picture-taking opportunities along the way.

And our gallery is here:

Mike and Leece's image galleries under Eastern North Carolina, June 2011.