Friday, November 23rd 2012 - 09:54 UTC

Australian scientists ‘discover’ the island that never was in the mid-Pacific

A South Pacific island identified on Google Earth and world maps does not exist, according to Australian scientists who went searching for the mystery landmass during a geological expedition.

Dr Maria Seton said that instead of Sandy island, navigation charts on board the ship showed a water depth of 1.400 meters in that area

The sizeable phantom island in the Coral Sea is shown as Sandy Island on Google Earth and Google maps and is supposedly midway between Australia and the French-governed New Caledonia.

The Times Atlas of the World appears to identify it as Sable Island. Weather maps used by the Southern Surveyor, an Australian maritime research vessel also say it exists, according to Dr Maria Seton.

But when the Southern Surveyor, which was tasked with identifying fragments of the Australian continental crust, submerged in the Coral Sea, steamed to where the island was supposed to be, it was nowhere to be found.

“We wanted to check it out because the navigation charts on board the ship showed a water depth of 1.400 meters in that area, very deep” Seton, from the University of Sydney reported after the 25-day voyage.

“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.”

News of the invisible island sparked debate on social media, with tweeter Charlie Loyd pointing out that Sandy Island is also on Yahoo Maps as well as Bing Maps “but it disappears up close”.

On, discussions were robust with one poster claiming he had confirmed with the French hydrographic office that it was indeed a phantom island and was supposed to have been removed from charts in 1979.

Another claimed: “Many mapmakers put in deliberate but unobtrusive and non-obvious ‘mistakes’ into their maps so that they can know when somebody steals the map data.”

Google said it always welcomed feedback on a map and “continuously explore(s) ways to integrate new information from our users and authoritative partners into Google Maps”.

The Australian Navy’s Hydrographic Service – the department responsible for producing official nautical charts – told Fairfax media it took the world coastline database “with a pinch of salt” since some entries were old or erroneous.

9 comments Feed

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1 Idlehands (#) Nov 23rd, 2012 - 10:10 am Report abuse
I wonder if they also came across a flotilla of confused Argentines sailing around in circles clutching their flag on a spike?
2 LightThink (#) Nov 23rd, 2012 - 10:26 am Report abuse
I am geologist

Aussie land was in the mid pacific.
3 Rufus (#) Nov 23rd, 2012 - 12:24 pm Report abuse
I can remember on one of the original maps of somewhere (I think it is in what is now Ghana) the cartographer clearly got bored (and probably had a little too much sun) and managed to create “elephant hill” by doodling in contour lines. See here: for the image...
4 briton (#) Nov 23rd, 2012 - 12:32 pm Report abuse
A bit like the Malvinas in the Atlantic,
Another invisible place that don’t exist..
5 Britworker (#) Nov 23rd, 2012 - 06:49 pm Report abuse
Careful Australia, it will be Sable Son Argentinas before long and they will be accusing you of ousting their settled population in the 1830's, before they or the island existed and have you up before the decolonisation committee.
6 British_Kirchnerist (#) Nov 24th, 2012 - 12:05 am Report abuse
#4 Knew someone would say that...
7 Troy Tempest (#) Nov 24th, 2012 - 01:00 am Report abuse
Isn't Google Earth a compilation of actual satellite photographs?

Or is it completely computer generated?
8 ptolemy (#) Nov 24th, 2012 - 01:07 am Report abuse
You know, someone should have sold this island to CFK.
9 Troy Tempest (#) Nov 24th, 2012 - 01:11 am Report abuse
It registers as just a black splotch on Google Earth, no details, but CFK will need to speak with Australia if they to usurp the “Sandy Islanders”. The map designates it a possession of Australia.

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