For years “Sandy Island,” located between Australia and French controlled New Caledonia, has appeared on maps such as Google Earth. But when a team of scientists from the University of Sydney decided to visit the island, they were somewhat surprised to find that it doesn’t exist.
Dr. Maria Seton, chief scientist on the voyage that “undiscovered” the island, said that her team became suspicious when they noticed that the ship’s navigation charts showed a water depth of around 1400 meters in the area where the island was supposed to be. When they arrived at the location of the island all they found was the deep blue water of the Pacific Ocean.
The island, also known as “Sable Island” in the Times Atlas of the World, appears on Google Earth as a dark, featureless ellipse. Dr. Seton told the AFP news service that they were puzzled that the island appeared on various maps including the weather maps that were used on the ship, but it did not appear on the ship’s navigation charts or on French maps of the area. She said:
“It’s on Google Earth and other maps so we went to check and there was no island. We’re really puzzled. It’s quite bizarre.
“How did it find its way onto the maps? We just don’t know, but we plan to follow up and find out.”
There have been various explanations offered as to how the island wound up on maps. A spokesman for Australia’s Hydrographic Service, which produces navigation charts, suggests that it was most likely just human error, repeated down through the years. There have been various discussions on social media about how the phantom island made its way onto maps, with one suggestion being that sometimes map makers put small innocuous errors on their maps so they can tell if somebody steals the map data. However, the spokesman for the Hydrographic Service said that while map makers will sometimes put non-existent streets on maps for that reason, that practice is unusual for navigation charts, as it would reduce the level of confidence in them.
“We work with a wide variety of authoritative public and commercial data sources to provide our users with the richest, most up-to-date maps possible. One of the exciting things about maps and geography is that the world is a constantly changing place, and keeping on top of these changes is a never-ending endeavour.”
Cartographers worldwide are now also “undiscovering” Sandy Island, and soon it will be gone forever.