Documentaries

Focal Point: Line in the Sand

Posted September 28, 2005
Updated August 31, 2011

Original Air Date: Sept. 28, 2005

The Outer Banks are home to one of North Carolina's most visible and most famous landmarks, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. They are also home to a major national park and wildlife refuge. Their natural beauty and beaches attract millions of tourists who contribute hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the state’s economy.

However, scientists say erosion, combined with a rising sea level and increased storm activity, could cause major sections of the Outer Banks to go under water within our lifetime, and they say the Bonner Bridge that connects the northern and southern Outer Banks may not last much longer. They also say many of the expensive efforts to protect the Outer Banks are only making the problem worse.

While most people agree that the Outer Banks are fragile and in danger, few people agree on a strategy to protect and preserve them. While various interest groups have drawn their own lines in the sand, the sands of the Outer Banks continue to shift and drift, reminding everyone that Mother Nature is the one in charge.


North Carolina Highway 12, which provides access to the Outer Banks and connects its communities, is another line in the sand. The state has spent tens of millions of dollars rebuilding, relocating and trying to protect the highway, only to have sections of it continually washed away by the sea. Critics say it is an exercise in futility and a waste of state and federal tax dollars. To some, Highway 12 is a symbol of the problem not only on the Outer Banks, but on most of the state’s barrier islands. They say it represents a series of short-term fixes to protect immediate economic interests that do nothing to ensure the long-term viability of the Outer Banks’ critical connector.

Hosted by WRAL's Bill Leslie, Focal Point: “Line In The Sand” looks at the future of the Outer Banks and examines the dire predictions by scientists and the political battle that continues to delay the search for a long-term solution to protect one of our state’s most valuable natural, recreational and economic resources.

Watch the Documentary

Dunes turn to sandstorm in hurricane winds Focal Point: Line in the Sand


WRAL.com Exclusive: Stan Riggs, a geologist at East Carolina University, says the earth is in a period of global warming that is causing glacial ice to melt and the sea level to rise about 1.5 feet every 50 years along the North Carolina coast.

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  • mini414 Sep 1, 2011

    Before you begin assessing the need to replace Hwy 12 maybe you should research the tax base that Dare County provides for the state of NC. Also, if you lived on the Outer Banks and had been there all your life, you would be singing a different tune. If the tree huggers would get out of the way, the beaches could be renourished like in other areas and the road would not wash out every time a storm hit. Please, let me know how much you pay for this road out of your pockets.

  • bjking1421 Sep 1, 2011

    There has to be a better way to handle the bridges and road problems for the Outerbanks. It does not make any financial logic to keep rebuilding something. The tax payers of the Outerbanks do not pay enough money in taxes to cover the cost of bridges to continually be built and replaced. The governor does not have it right when she says that they are tax payers for they deserve a road. Not at my expense!