Island beach
(Photo credit: Jim Pennucci / Flickr)

Assateague Island is known for its beaches, hiking, birdwatching, and wild horses.

The uninhabited island, off of Maryland and Virginia’s coast, drew almost 2.5 million visitors last year.

But Assateague Island’s sands are shifting underfoot.

When a storm hits, strong winds and waves can carve inlets into the island and change the shape of beaches. And storm surges can wash sand from the oceanside beach farther inland. So over time, the island shifts.

“The northern portion of the island … has moved about a half-mile to the west in about the last 40 years,” says Hugh Hawthorne, superintendent of Assateague Island National Seashore.

He says some movement is normal, but as seas rise and storms get more intense, the rate of change is speeding up.

So the Park Service is working to adapt its facilities. It’s now making restrooms and lifeguard towers portable so they can be moved to new locations as the island shifts. And Hawthorne says the Park Service plans to relocate its oceanside campground farther west.

“The island may change, the way we manage it may change,” he says, “but we expect Assateague Island National Seashore to be here for a long time.”

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Reporting credit: Stephanie Manuzak/ChavoBart Digital Media.

Topics: Oceans