Pamlico Sound

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Pamlico Sound with the southern Outer Banks. Orbital photo courtesy of NASA. PamlicoSound-EO.JPG
Pamlico Sound with the southern Outer Banks. Orbital photo courtesy of NASA.

Pamlico Sound ( /ˈpæmlɪk/ PAM-lik-oh) in North Carolina in the US is the largest lagoon along the North American East Coast, extending 80 mi (130 km) long and 15 to 20 miles (24 to 32 km) wide. It is part of a large, interconnected network of lagoon estuaries that includes Albemarle Sound, Currituck Sound, Croatan Sound, Pamlico Sound, Bogue Sound, Core Sound, and Roanoke Sound. [1] [2] Together, these sounds, known as the Albemarle-Pamlico sound system, comprise the second largest estuary in the United States, covering over 3,000 sq. mi. (7,800 km2) of open water. [3] (Chesapeake Bay is the largest.) The Pamlico Sound is separated from the Atlantic Ocean by the Outer Banks, a row of low, sandy barrier islands that include Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Cape Lookout National Seashore, and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. The Albemarle-Pamlico Sound is one of nineteen great waters recognized by the America's Great Waters Coalition. [4]



Pamlico Sound is connected to the north with Albemarle Sound through passages provided by the Roanoke Sound and Croatan Sound. Core Sound is located at the Pamlico's narrow southern end. [1] [2] It is fed by the Neuse and Pamlico rivers (the latter of which is the estuary of the Tar River) from the west, and from the east by Oregon Inlet, Hatteras Inlet, and Ocracoke Inlet, which also provide passage to the Atlantic Ocean. [5] The salinity of the sound averages 20 ppt, compared to an average coastal salinity of 35 ppt in the Atlantic and 3 ppt in the Currituck Sound, which is located north of the Albemarle Sound. [6]

The sound and its ocean inlets are noted for wide expanses of shallow water and occasional shoaling, making the area hazardous for larger vessels. While the deepest hole of the estuary (26'; 8m) can be found in the Pamlico Sound, [7] depths generally range from 5 to 6 feet (1.5 to 1.8m). [8] In addition, the shallow waters are susceptible to wind and barometric pressure-driven tidal fluctuations. This effect is amplified on the tributary rivers, where water levels can change by as much as two feet in three hours when winds are aligned with the rivers' axes and are blowing strongly. [1] [2]

History and current use

In March 1524, Italian Explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano mistook the sound for the Pacific Ocean because of its wide expanse and separation from the Atlantic Ocean by the Outer Banks barrier islands. [5] The sound was named for the Pamlico Native American tribe that lived along the sound's mainland banks and who were referred to as the Pamouik by the Raleigh expeditions (circa 1584). [9]

Three locations of Pamlico Sound in the Outer Banks between Cape Hatteras and Cape Fear were once under serious consideration by the United States Atomic Energy Commission as an atomic bomb test site during the late 1940s and early 1950s. [10] [11] Portions of Pamlico Sound are used as a bombing and training range for Camp Lejeune. [12]

In 1987, Congress declared the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound an "estuary of national significance." [3] For vacationers to the Outer Banks, the Pamlico Sound is a "watersports playground" providing opportunities for fishing and crabbing, boating, kayaking, sailing, windsurfing, kiteboarding, parasailing, paddleboarding, and more. [5] In 2012, the economic impact of tourism to the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound area exceeded $1.3 billion. [3]

The sound also supports local commercial fishing, crabbing, shrimping, clamming, and oystering. 90% of North Carolina's commercial fishing catches are attributed to the Pamlico Sound, generating almost $100 million per year. [13]


Along the coastal areas are numerous waterfowl nesting sites, including Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on the Outer Banks, and Swanquarter National Wildlife Refuge on the mainland. [1] [2] Dolphins and sea turtles [14] are abundant, [15] with occasional visits by seals such as harp seal in early January and February. Many other cetaceans including rare species such as fin whales, Cuvier's beaked whales, and orcas are present off Outer Banks and Cape Hatteras. Whales such as Atlantic gray (now extirpated), [16] North Atlantic right (critically endangered), and North Atlantic humpback were historically common. Endangered species such as leatherback turtles, [17] whale sharks, and basking sharks are also known to visit the sound as well. [6]

The sound also sports a variety of fish populations including red drum, speckled trout, flounder, striped bass (known as rockfish by local populations), croaker, spot, pompano, kingfish, and bluefish. In addition, shellfish populations including blue crab, shrimp, oysters, and clams are healthy. [7]

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Dare County, North Carolina U.S. county in North Carolina

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Ocracoke, North Carolina Census-designated place in North Carolina, United States

Ocracoke is a census-designated place (CDP) and unincorporated town located at the southern end of Ocracoke Island, located entirely within Hyde County, North Carolina, in the United States. The population was 948 as of the 2010 census. As of 2014, Ocracoke's population was estimated at 591. Ocracoke Island was the location of the pirate Blackbeard's death in November 1718.

Cape Hatteras

Cape Hatteras is a bend in Hatteras Island, one of the barrier islands of North Carolina.

Albemarle Sound An estuary on the coast of North Carolina, United States

Albemarle Sound is a large estuary on the coast of North Carolina in the United States located at the confluence of a group of rivers, including the Chowan and Roanoke. It is separated from the Atlantic Ocean by the Currituck Banks, a barrier peninsula upon which the town of Kitty Hawk is located, at the eastern edge of the sound, and part of the greater Outer Banks region. Roanoke Island is situated at the southeastern corner of the sound, where it connects to Pamlico Sound. Much of the water in the Albemarle Sound is brackish or fresh, as opposed to the saltwater of the ocean, as a result of river water pouring into the sound.

Rodanthe, North Carolina Census-designated place in North Carolina, United States

Rodanthe is an unincorporated community and census-designated place (CDP) located in Dare County, North Carolina, United States, on Hatteras Island, part of North Carolina's Outer Banks. As of the 2010 census it had a population of 261. Rodanthe, along with Waves and Salvo, are part of the settlement of Chicamacomico. Rodanthe includes the original Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station, decommissioned in 1954, but now a museum.

Hatteras Island

Hatteras Island is a barrier island located off the North Carolina coast. Dividing the Atlantic Ocean and the Pamlico Sound, it runs parallel to the coast, forming a bend at Cape Hatteras. It is part of North Carolina's Outer Banks and includes the communities of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras. It contains the largest part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It is almost entirely in Dare County, North Carolina, though there is a small sliver of about 45 acres (0.18 km2) extending southwest into Hyde County. Prior to European colonization the Island was inhabited by Croatoan indigenous peoples.

Hatteras, North Carolina Census-designated place in North Carolina, United States of America

Hatteras is an unincorporated village and census-designated place (CDP) in Dare County, North Carolina, United States, on the Outer Banks island of Hatteras, at its extreme southwestern tip. As of the 2010 census it had a population of 504. Immediately to the west of the village of Hatteras is Hatteras Inlet which separates Hatteras Island from the neighboring Ocracoke Island. North Carolina Highway 12 passes through the community linking it to Frisco to the east and Ocracoke to the west.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a United States national seashore which preserves the portion of the Outer Banks of North Carolina from Bodie Island to Ocracoke Island, stretching over 70 miles (110 km), and is managed by the National Park Service. Included within this section of barrier islands along N.C. 12, but outside the national seashore boundaries, are Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and several communities, such as Rodanthe, Buxton, and Ocracoke. Cape Hatteras is a combination of natural and cultural resources, and provides a wide variety of recreational opportunities.

Outer Banks Barrier islands in North Carolina, U.S.

The Outer Banks are a 200-mile (320 km) string of barrier islands and spits off the coast of North Carolina and southeastern Virginia, on the east coast of the United States. They line most of the North Carolina coastline, separating Currituck Sound, Albemarle Sound, and Pamlico Sound from the Atlantic Ocean. A major tourist destination, the Outer Banks are known for their wide expanse of open beachfront and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The seashore and surrounding ecosystem are important biodiversity zones, including beach grasses and shrubland that help maintain the form of the land.

Currituck Sound

Currituck Sound is a protected inlet of the Atlantic Ocean, located in northeastern part of North Carolina and extreme southeastern Virginia. Thirty miles N-S and 3–8 miles wide, this shallow, island-filled sound is separated from the ocean by the Currituck Banks Peninsula, part of the Outer Banks. On the NE, it extends to Back Bay in Virginia Beach, Virginia. A fork on the northwest leads to the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal, which is a part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway that connects the sound to Hampton Roads and the Chesapeake Bay. Although several inlets connected it directly to the Atlantic at one time or another, they have all since closed and there is now no direct access to the Ocean from the Sound. This has caused the salinity levels to be significantly lower than they had been historically. Currently, the only access to the Ocean is through the Albemarle Sound, which joins the Currituck to the South. Currituck County's Mackay Island and Currituck National Wildlife Refuge as well as Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park in Virginia Beach border the sound and are winter habitats on the Atlantic Flyway. Many watersports activities occur in the sound, including parasailing, sea kayaking, and jet skiing. An area of barrier beaches, it is also noted for its duck and goose hunting.

Oregon Inlet is an inlet along North Carolina's Outer Banks. It joins the Pamlico Sound with the Atlantic Ocean and separates Bodie Island from Pea Island, which are connected by the 2.8 mile Marc Basnight Bridge that spans the inlet. As one of the few access points to the ocean along this stretch of coast, Oregon Inlet is a major departure point for charter fishing trips, with a nearby harbor serving as the base for many large boats that travel miles out towards the Gulf Stream almost every day. The inlet is also the location of a U.S. Coast Guard station.

New Inlet was an inlet along the Outer Banks of North Carolina joining Pamlico Sound with the Atlantic Ocean. It had not existed since 1945 before Hurricane Irene temporarily re-opened the inlet in 2011.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation Ferry Division is a branch of NCDOT that is responsible for the operation of over two dozen ferry services that transport passengers and vehicles to several islands along the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Effects of Hurricane Isabel in North Carolina Impact and aftermath of 2003 Atlantic hurricane

The effects of Hurricane Isabel in North Carolina were widespread, with the heaviest damage in Dare County. The hurricane made landfall in the Outer Banks of North Carolina on September 18. There, storm surge flooding and strong winds damaged thousands of houses. The storm surge produced a 2,000 foot (600 m) wide inlet on Hatteras Island, isolating Hatteras by road for two months. Several locations along North Carolina Highway 12 were partially washed out or covered with debris. Hurricane Isabel produced hurricane-force wind gusts across eastern North Carolina, knocking down trees and power lines. About 700,000 residents lost power due to the storm, although most outages were restored within a few days. The hurricane killed three people in the state – two due to falling trees, and the other a utility worker attempting to restore electricity. Damage in the state totaled $450 million.

Hatteras Inlet

Hatteras Inlet is an estuary in North Carolina, located along the Outer Banks, separating Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island. It connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pamlico Sound. Hatteras Inlet is located entirely within Hyde County.

Ocracoke Inlet

Ocracoke Inlet is an estuary located in the Outer Banks, North Carolina, United States that separates Ocracoke Island and Portsmouth Island. It connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pamlico Sound. It is the southern terminus of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and the northern terminus of the Cape Lookout National Seashore. The inlet is approximately two miles across, although it changes daily.

Carova Beach, North Carolina

Carova Beach or Carova is an unincorporated community in Currituck County in the extreme northeast corner of North Carolina, United States. The community, begun in the 1960s, is found on Currituck Banks, north of Bodie Island, and can be accessed only by boat or by four-wheel drive vehicle. There are no paved roads connecting Carova to the town of Corolla, North Carolina. The neighboring settlement of Sandbridge in Virginia Beach, Virginia is not accessible by vehicle from Carova. In the 1960s when development began in Carova there were plans to construct a paved road from Sandbridge south to Carova through the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge but these never materialized. Today there is a permanent fence from ocean to sound to keep vehicles from crossing and, more importantly, to keep the wild horses from migrating to the Virginia side of the border. To reach Carova, four-wheel drive vehicles must drive north along the beach from Corolla into the community, as access from Virginia is limited to pedestrians and bicyclists.

North Carolina Aquariums

North Carolina Aquariums is a system of three public aquariums located in Kure Beach, Roanoke Island and Pine Knoll Shores. All are operated by the Aquariums Division of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources since 1976 and are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. All three aquariums feature dive shows, live animal encounters, and feeding programs.

Tidewater region of North Carolina

The Tidewater Region is the slim section of land along the coast of North Carolina near the Atlantic ocean. All the beaches of North Carolina are located here. There are also capes, on the coast of North Carolina. Lighthouses, normally foundlll on a cape, reduce incidents of a collision between ships and the coast. The major streams and rivers from Piedmont, United States area empty into sounds or the Atlantic Ocean. The Tidewater has eight sounds: Back, Pamlico, Albemarle, Currituck, Croatan, Roanoke, Core, and Bogue Sounds. It has many wetlands, where water covers the land. The Great Dismal Swamp, which is a series of swamps scattered from Virginia to North Carolina, is North Carolina's largest wetland area. It covers approximately 111,000 acres (450 km2), which makes it one of the largest swamps in the country. The Tidewater area in North and South Carolina is the only place in the world where the Venus flytrap grows naturally.


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Coordinates: 35°18′46″N75°56′14″W / 35.31278°N 75.93722°W / 35.31278; -75.93722