ocean

On the Edge: Life on North Carolina's Reefs

Most people associate reef systems with tropical islands and warm, shallow waters. 

However, those are coral reefs—reefs made of living creatures.

Believe it or not, there are two unique reef systems off the North Carolina coast. They are made of rock but they are still reefs, and while they aren't made of ocean life, they are covered with it. 

The first system is found primarily on the edge of the continental shelf, about 75 miles offshore. There are smaller systems rising periodically from the ocean floor about 40 miles off the coast as well. 

The Changing Outer Banks

Ask almost anyone in the country to describe North Carolina’s Outer Banks and they could probably name a few images easily — the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the wild horses, wide strips of sandy beach, and the Wright Brothers monument.

The Outer Banks are so ingrained into our collective national consciousness that people can visualize the coastal region without ever visiting it. The irony is that while images of the Outer Banks remain the same, the islands are constantly changing. They are supposed to.

Making Waves

Ask anybody what they like about North Carolina’s beaches and you’ll likely hear responses like warm sun, warm sand, ocean breeze, and fresh seafood at the restaurants. The answers vary, of course, but I think one thing that everyone likes about the beach is the sound of the waves.

So the question is... What makes an ocean wave?

The answer is simple: wind.

The Virtual Battle of the Atlantic

You can’t find a more picturesque drive than Highway 12, the road that runs the length of the Outer Banks. Crowded during the summer tourist season, occasionally washed out by hurricanes and Nor’easters, the roadway tells the story of the region’s maritime heritage. From historic towns and lighthouses, to shipwrecks and the birthplace of aviation, Highway 12 has a rich history.

You can stop at highway markers along the way, but now technology has a new way to experience the drive.

So what is an Animal Form Temperature Profiler?

Seal TrackingIt turns out the grey seals that were tagged to give scientists some insight into the life of a Cape Cod seal are providing a wealth of information into another area of oceanography. Call it an unintended, but very welcome, consequence. It’s one of the interesting discoveries I’ve found after a few months of reporting stories for North Carolina Science Now.