Where Is The World's Longest Barrier Island?

Entrance to South Padre Island.
Entrance to South Padre Island.

The United States owns the majority of the world’s barrier islands with its coastline having more than 400 of them. The US also boasts of having the longest barrier island in the world known as Padre Island. Padre Island, located in the Gulf of Mexico, is the second largest island by area in the contiguous United States (behind New York’s Long Island).

History Of Padre Island

Scientists lack a clear explanation of the formation of barrier islands, but geologists believe that Padre Island was formed about 4,500 years ago as a submerged sand bar and emerged above the Gulf of Mexico about 1,000 years ago. Archeologists have discovered several ancient arrowheads and spears on Padre Island which show that the island was inhabited or visited by Native Americans during in its early years. In the 16th century, the island was visited by Spanish explorers during their global voyages with records showing the earliest Spanish sailors arriving in 1554 after their ships were wrecked during a storm. Spanish missionary priest, Padre Jose Nicolas Balli was granted ownership of the island in 1804 by King Charles III to establish a livestock ranch. The island is named for the Spanish missionary priest.

Biosphere Of Padre Island

Padre Island is an important habitat for many species of animals and plants. The island’s location is on the Central Flyway is a primary migration route for birds who use it when traveling between Central America and South America, making the island a strategic stop-over. About half of all bird species in North America can be seen in Padre Island. The island is also home to several species of turtles including the rarest and most endangered species in the world, the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. Padre Island National Park offers the turtles a sanctuary where their numbers are seeing steady improvements.

Economic Activities At Padre Island

When Padre Jose Nicolas Balli gained ownership of the island, he established a ranch where he reared horses, cattle, and sheep. Ranching continued as the primary economic activity practiced on the island until the mid-20th century when oil exploration on the island commenced. Padre Island was also used extensively as a bombing range by the US Navy until such operations were stopped in 1966. Padre Island was established as a protected sanctuary in 1968 by the government and is currently known as a popular tourist attraction where basking on the beach, surfing and turtle watching are some of the main activities. The island is also used by conservationists who have set up The Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery where they track movements of turtles and protect nesting areas of the female turtles from natural predators.

Future Of The Padre Island

Padre Island is one of the 300 barrier islands located along the Gulf of Mexico, stretching from Maine to Mexico. All barrier islands around the world are experiencing rapid erosion caused by rising sea levels and increased hurricane activity. The South Padre Island experiences heavy erosion which is visible with the island retreating rapidly towards the mainland. The entire island is expected to face the same fate due to a decrease in the depositing of new sediment, the rise of sea levels and increased storm activity.


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