A South Pacific island, shown on marine charts and world maps as well as on Google Earth and Google Maps, does not exist, Australian scientists say.
The supposedly sizeable strip of land, named Sandy Island on Google maps, was positioned midway between Australia and French-governed New Caledonia.
But when scientists from the University of Sydney went to the area, they found only the blue ocean of the Coral Sea.
Australia’s Hydrographic Service, which produces the country’s nautical charts, says its appearance on some scientific maps and Google Earth could just be the result of human error, repeated down the years.
Well, that’s unusual. There is a thing call ground truthing, where you identify something remotely but you must physically investigate it to make sure it’s not an error. I guess this island was never “truthed” until now.
UPDATE (27-Nov-2012) An Auckland museum blog post provides us with some information about Sandy Island discovered by a New Zealand librarian.
According to our chart the island was discovered by the Velocity in 1876. But there is a generic note on the chart which warns: “Caution is necessary while navigating among the low lying islands of the Pacific Ocean. The general details have been collated from the voyages of various navigators extending over a long series of years. The relative position of many dangers may therefore not be exactly given.”
And while Sandy Island appears on many maps, it isn’t on all sea charts. How it managed to appear, disappear and reappear onto various maps and charts is a mystery of the sea. No doubt some out there will believe the island is still there, or has simply moved south for the summer.
There is also a LiveScience piece that described some alternate explanations:
Some have speculated that Sandy Island may have been intentionally invented by a cartographer as a copyright trap; drawers of urban maps are known to add so-called “paper streets,” which don’t exist in reality, so that plagiarists will reveal themselves by the inclusion of a signature error.
But Mike Prince, the director of charting services for the Australian Hydrographic Service, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the authors of nautical charts didn’t generally booby-trap their work, as such a practice could have had damning implications on sea maps’ reliability.