Scientists discover island on Google Maps does not exist

Nov 22, 2012

South Pacific's Sandy Island appears on world maps but explorers who travelled there found only water


SCIENTISTS looking for an island in the South Pacific that appears on marine charts and world maps, including Google Earth, were surprised to discover it does not exist.

The phantom strip of land, named 'Sandy Island', is supposedly located between Australia and New Caledonia and has appeared on maps for at least a decade. It appears as a black streak in the top left corner of the Google Map above.

Scientists from the University of Sydney had travelled to the area on a geological expedition. They were expecting to come across a sizeable area of land, but all they encountered were the waters of the Coral Sea.

Scientist Maria Seton, who was on the ship, said: "We wanted to check it out because the navigation charts on board the ship showed a water depth of 1,400m in that area - very deep," but there was no island. "It's quite bizarre." She said.

The BBC's Duncan Kennedy noted that most explorers dream of discovering uncharted territory, but the Australian team have managed to do the opposite.

Sandy Island's alleged location is in French territory, but the island does not appear on French government maps.

A spokesman for Google Earth said they consult "a variety of authoritative sources when making their maps" but as the world is constantly shifting "keeping on top of these changes is a never-ending endeavour".

Australia's Hydrographic Service, which produces the country's nautical charts, speculated that Sandy Island's appearance on some scientific maps, and Google Maps, could be the result of human error, repeated without proper consultation.

Although some map makers intentionally include fake streets to identify their work in cases of copyright theft, this rarely occurs with nautical charts because it would reduce confidence in them.

Dr Seton said the team remain "really puzzled" by the discovery, or un-discovery. "How did it find its way onto the maps?" She said. "We just don't know, but we plan to follow up and find out."

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