Carolina Environmental Diversity Explorations
Small sand volume barrier islands · By Dirk Frankenberg
Undeveloped sand ridge
Figure 15 shows an undeveloped sand ridge in the salt marsh behind Topsail Beach. As you can see, these ridges are not much above sea level, but the presence of live oak trees shows that the areas are not flooded frequently. However, there most assuredly are floods on every significant storm tide. Live oaks and cedars are among the most salt-tolerant tree species in North Carolina. The trees in this photo have been killed back by the salt spray from a hurricane the previous fall, but by the spring they seem almost recovered. A few leafless limbs on the ocean side of the trees is the only evidence of their near-death experience of the previous year.
The continued survival of these trees shows that organisms adapted to living on low sand volume barrier islands can recover from extreme weather events like hurricanes. The built infrastructure of these islands cannot. It is a lesson our society has learned only through the expense and heartbreak of repeated destruction and rebuilding.