Barrier islands are bodies of sand that face the ocean on one side and a lagoon on the other, separated from one another by inlets. Barrier islands serve two critical functions - they protect coastlines from being ravaged by storms and they harbor several unique habitats that serve as refuges for an abundance of wildlife, many of which are birds traveling the Atlantic Flyway during migration.

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 the longest chain of undeveloped barrier islands in the global temperate zone, designated by the United Nations as an International Biosphere Reserve.

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, click the button below to learn about our private boat tours. If you plan to take your own boat, please check for any visitation policies set by the Nature Conservancy or government agency managing each island.