One such creation captured the eye of astronaut Clayton C. Anderson while he was taking photographs from the International Space Station on January 7, 2011.
The swirls of sediment seen in the image to the right are along Africa’s Indian Ocean coast near Vilankulo, Mozambique.
Some of the sand could have originated as far inland as the Kalahari Desert — carried to the coast by the Limpopo River.
While the mouth of that famed waterway has long shifted farther north, it was also responsible for creating the Bazaruto Archipelago.
The southernmost islands of that chain, Ilha Magaruque and Ilha do Bazaruto, can be seen in the upper portions of the image.
The white sand beaches, coral and pristine waters have made the region arguably Mozambique’s most prime tourist destination.
Shy marine mammals, known as the dugong (sea cow), can also be viewed by tourists feeding on the underwater vegetation of the Vilanculos Coastal Wildlife Sanctuary. Astronaut Anderson's photograph captured only a portion of that reserve.
The Limpopo River no longer directly creates currents through the sediment seen in the image. But tides and runoff still flow from wetlands just to the south of the visible area, creating today's dramatic underwater creations.