Photo courtesy NASA
A satellite view of a series of barrier islands that form North Carolina's Outer Banks
Barrier islands, sometimes called barrier spits, are found on coastlines all over the world, but are most noticeable along the eastern coast of North America where they extend from New England down the Atlantic Coast, around the Gulf of Mexico and south to Mexico. Barrier islands are popular vacation spots including resort communities from Atlantic City, NJ to Miami Beach, FL. Many people own vacation homes or condominiums on barrier islands and more barrier islands are being developed for tourism. However, barrier islands are fragile, constantly changing ecosystems that are important for coastal geology and ecology. Development has posed dangers to these ecosystems and has also increased the risk of property damage every year from hurricanes and Nor'easters.

In this article, we will examine the fragile ecosystems of barrier islands. We'll explore how these islands are formed, what habitats and life are present on them, how they change, the consequences of development and the recreational activities that attract tourists to them every year.