In September 2017, Hurricane Irma ripped across Puerto Rico, Cuba, and most of the big Caribbean islands, leaving unprecedented destruction in its path before it landed as a tropical storm in the southeastern United States. Amid the flooding, deaths, and power losses, though, one small glimmer of creation shines through.
Irma created a new island off the coast of Georgia after it washed away a narrow strip of land that had joined two land masses as a single island. This new island, dubbed “Little Blackbeard,” used to be a piece of — you guessed it — Blackbeard Island. The change happened so recently that Google Earth hasn’t had the chance to catch up with a new image. Little Blackbeard lies east of Sapelo Island, the large, green land mass in the left portion of the satellite image below:
Here’s what it looks like now, from a slightly different angle:
A new island may sound like a really big deal, but it’s surprisingly common in coastal ecosystems.
“The areas are very dynamic because it’s sandy,” Marguerite Madden, Ph.D., director of the University of Georgia Center for Geospatial Research told FOX 13. “It’s not unusual. Storms can cause dramatic changes in a short amount of time.”
Blackbeard Island, a federal wildlife refuge, measured a little over 5,600 acres, but is probably closer to 5,500 after losing 100 acres to Little Blackbeard. It’s not clear whether Little Blackbeard will remain independent, in which case the ocean and wind would likely continue to shift sand to the southern tip, causing the whole island to look like it’s migrating. Alternatively, it could potentially rejoin Blackbeard Island or even become a part of Sapelo Island, which is state-protected.
Coastal ecosystems are perpetually shifting, with new islands constantly popping up, developing whole populations of plants and animals, and plunging back beneath the waves. It’s impossible to say what exactly will become of Little Blackbeard, but odds are it will not remain the same as it is.