Thursday, November 03, 2016

Sound, Bay, Esturary, Lagoon

Visitors to Ocracoke sometimes refer to Pamlico Sound as "the bay."  This got me to wondering about the difference between a sound and a bay...and also what constituted an estuary and a lagoon. So I looked up the definitions at This is what I discovered:

  • Sound: 1. a relatively narrow passage of water between larger bodies of water or between the mainland and an island, 2. an inlet, arm, or recessed portion of the sea.
  • Bay: a body of water forming an indentation of the shoreline, larger than a cove but smaller than a gulf.
  • Estuary: 1. that part of the mouth or lower course of a river in which the river's current meets the sea's tide, 2. an arm or inlet of the sea at the lower end of a river.
  • Lagoon:  an area of shallow water separated from the sea by low sandy dunes.

I wondered if maybe Bay, Estuary, or Lagoon would be a more accurate descriptor of the Pamlico Sound. Here are my musings:

  • Is Pamlico Sound really a "narrow passage" between the mainland and the Outer Banks? It seems pretty wide to me...almost 3 hours to cross it by ferry.
  • Does Pamlico Sound form much of an "indentation" in the shoreline? How "indented" must it be to be called a bay?
  • To what extent do the Neuse and Pamlico rivers  "meet the sea's tide?" The rivers and the Atlantic are about 25 miles distant.
  • Is Pamlico Sound an area of "shallow water" separated from the Atlantic by low sandy dunes? Although relatively shallow, it is more than 20 feet deep in places.

So my question to our readers is, Which of these do you think is the most accurate name for the body of water between Ocracoke Island and the mainland:

Pamlico Sound,
Pamlico Bay,
Pamlico Estuary, or
Pamlico Lagoon?

Leave a comment to cast your ballot.

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  1. Ocracoke Therapy Client7:03 AM

    It's a Sound. When the definition says 'relatively' narrow passage, I think that's relative to the associated water body - the Atlantic Ocean. Bay and Estuary are definitely out. Until I see Mary Ann or Ginger running around there, I'd say Lagoon's out too.

  2. Debbie Leonard9:08 AM

    Sound, if only because it clearly doesn't fit the other definitions.

  3. How about a sound surrounded by estuaries.

  4. Anonymous8:35 AM

    Lagoon. The definition describes the presence of Sand Dunes. You have sand Dunes, right? and shallow compared to the ocean depths measured in fathoms, yes 20 feet is shallow come on now. It is a Lagoon but it is your Pamlico Sound.

  5. All of the above. Well, probably not a "bay", but definitely a "lagoon" and an "estuary". Usage varies widely geographically--language is fun--but we use "sound" around here, obviously, and probably aren't going to change that anytime soon.