"Ribbon of Sand" profiles this seascape and the transitory islands doomed to disappear. As environmental pioneer Rachel Carson notes in her 1954 article "The Real World Around Us," "The more clearly we focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction." More than half a century later, North Carolina's Outer Banks are imperiled by rising sea levels due to global warming. Carson's writing frames "Ribbon of Sand"; acclaimed actress Meryl Streep interpreted her writings, and Academy Award winner Todd Boekelheide composed an original orchestral score for the film.
Rather than focusing only on the barrier islands, the film examines all the interrelated elements of the coastal ecosystem. Offshore, the thin strips of barrier island sand rise just above sea level, the sound side rimmed with salt marsh grasses, the ocean side with low dunes that bear the brunt of fierce wave action.
Adaptations of mid-Atlantic coastal plants and animals illumine the genius of evolution. Spartina alterniflora, salt marsh cordgrass, uniquely evolved to survive and thrive in a hostile environment. The area is a key route for migratory birds and fish. Black bears and red wolves inhabit the coastal plain. The camera also goes underwater to examine the estuaries, which are nurseries for ocean-going sea life, as well as cold-water coral habitat.
Ocean storms pound the barrier islands and are instrumental in the reality of these shifting sands. The islands themselves roll over as they migrate toward the mainland. Storm waves throw loads of sand across the low, narrow islands, creating "overwash fans." The fan of sand, now on the sound side of the island, is colonized by vegetation to become salt marsh, while the beach on the ocean side is eroded away, so that the position of the island has literally moved. Ultimately, "Ribbon of Sand" is both celebration of and lament for a singular and ephemeral corner of the natural world.