Barrier islands are bodies of sand, longer than they are wide, that face the ocean on one side and a lagoon on the other. They are separated from one another by inlets.

There are two principal types of barrier islands: those formed along Coastal plains, such as the islands on the Virginia Coast and those on river Deltas, such as the Mississippi. In all cases, the islands form on flat coasts with an abundance of sand.

Barrier islands serve two main functions. First, they protect the coastlines from severe storm damage. Second, they harbor several habitats that are refuges for wildlife.

BArrier island FUN FACTS

  • There are about 2,200 barrier islands found along 10% of the worlds open ocean shorelines.

  • They are found on every continent except Antarctica. 

  • Barrier islands are found in all climate zones. 

  • The United States has more barrier islands (405) than any other country.

WHAT makes virginia's barrier islands unique?

Eastern Shore of Virginia & Barrier Islands

Eastern Shore of Virginia
& Barrier Islands

Along the seaside of Virginia's Eastern Shore are a chain of uninhabited barrier islands, stretching from Assateague Island at the Maryland border, to Fisherman's Island at the foot of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.

These 23 shifting islands of sand, as well as a swath of marshland and lagoons, constitute one of the longest undeveloped stretches of shoreline on the East Coast. In fact, they are a global treasure:

  • They are the longest chain of undeveloped barrier islands in the global temperate zone

  • The United Nations designated the islands as an International Biosphere Reserve

  • Virginia’s Barrier Islands are a crucial natural component of the Atlantic Flyway


Virginia Barrier Island Ownership

Virginia Barrier Island Ownership

Today, most of the islands are protected by the Nature Conservancy's Virginia Coast Reserve, and almost nothing remains of the beach resorts, hunting and fishing clubs, and even entire communities that thrived on these islands until they were washed away by sea and storm. 

Only the northern-most islands are accessible by car. If you are interested in visiting the islands today, the best way to see and experience them is to charter a boat with an experienced captain. If you do plan to take your own boat, please check for any visitation policies set by the Nature Conservancy or government agency managing the island.

ARTICLES about the Barrier Islands: