A cove is a small, sheltered recess in the shoreline of a sea, lake, or river


5 - 12+


Earth Science, Oceanography, Geography, Human Geography, Physical Geography

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A cove is a type of small, sheltered bay on the coast of an ocean, lake, or river. Sometimes, coves are smaller inlets of larger bays or lagoons. Cangrejo Cove, part of the Antarctic Peninsula, is sometimes called "Bahia Cangrejo," for instance. When viewed from above, the spit of land creating the feature looks like the claw of a crayfish—cangrejo, in the native Spanish of the Argentine explorers who first identified the cove. Coves usually have narrow entrances. This protects the water of the cove from the turbulent currents and waves of the larger body of water. In fact, the word cove comes from the Old English word cofa, which means shelter or hut. Many ancient settlements have been discovered on the shores of coves. In freshwater ecosystems, such as lakes, coves provided safe access to water for drinking and hygiene. In marine ecosystems, coves provided access to fish and other seafood. Archaeologists have uncovered artifacts from the mesolithic (around 7000 BCE) in Ferriter's Cove, on the Dingle Peninsula in southwestern Ireland, for example. These artifacts hinted at a fishing community that inhabited the site during the summer. Coves usually form through the process of weathering. Weathering is the process of breaking down or dissolving rocks on Earth's surface. Rain, wind, ice, chemicals, and even plants can weather rock. The rocks surrounding a cove are often soft and vulnerable to weathering. Such rocks include sandstone, clay, and limestone. Limestone Cove, part of the Cherokee National Forest in the U.S. state of Tennessee, for instance, is a sheltered cove on North Indian Creek. Even hard rocks are vulnerable to weathering and may form the entrance to coves. Hard rock includes quartz or granite. The so-called "Pink Granite Coast" of Brittany, France, includes many coves popular with kayakers. The weathering that creates a cove can occur many different ways. Crashing waves can break off large chunks of rock all at once. Seawater contains certain kinds of acids that can wear away at rocks. The steady movement of tides and currents can also slowly weather a shoreline to create the entrance to a cove.

Fast Fact

Lulworth Cove
Lulworth Cove on the southern coast of England has become a major tourist attraction, with more than 1 million people visiting it each year. The horseshoe-shaped cove, part of the so-called Jurassic Coast, contains fossils that are tens of millions of years old, and has layers of Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous-era rocks.

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Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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