A new geographic survey, conducted by researchers from Duke University and Meredith College, located in Raleigh, N.C., has discovered more than 650 new barrier islands, spread out across the globe. The team used a collection of satellite images, navigational charts, and topographical maps, all of which are available to the general public, as part of their research. They counted 2149 barrier islands worldwide, up from 1492, the number found following a similar study conducted back in 2001.
Barrier islands are common around the world, and appear along the coasts of every continent except Antarctica. They usually are made up of deposits of sand and other sediment that collects along the coastlines, running parallel to the shore. They can be quite transitory however, coming and going with the change of tides, which may help explain why more were discovered in this recent survey, although it is also likely that many were simply missed in the previous count.
While more than 74% of all barrier islands are located in the Northern Hemisphere, they tend to serve similar purposes where ever they are found. These islands often serve as a protective barrier for shorelines against storms and high tide erosion. They are also quite often a safe haven for wildlife as well.
The study did find a few surprising results. Generally it was believed that barrier islands could only exist in a setting with seasonal tides that did not exceed 13 feet in height. But a chain of 54 islands was discovered stretching along the coast of Brazil in an area where the seasonal tides are often in excess of 23 feet. Scientists say that those islands can exist in that environment thanks to the vast amounts of sand and silt delivered to the region by the Amazon River.
The 657 new islands will obviously be welcomed with open arms by beach combers the world over. I’m sure there are already a number of resort chains that have begun scoping out this prime real estate as well. Maybe we should all launch Google Earth and start looking for a private island of our own. After all, there has to be at least a few more that are still waiting to be found.