There are plenty of fake islands and lands shown on old maps that never were. For centuries there were was Terra Australis Incognita - the mythical great southern continent that turned out not to exist. And there have been other supposed islands that never existed, but that belongs to the world of the past - of discovering the world by sailing ship.
But there's no way that could happen in today's world of Google maps (that uses satellite imagery). Right? Well think again - Google (and National Geographic) somehow made the same mistake.
Sandy Island - The Island That Never Was
Welcome to Sandy Island - the island that never was. This non-existent island was shown on maps for over a century and was located near the French territory of New Calendonia. It was supposedly located between the Chesterfield Islands and Nereus Reef in the eastern Coral Sea.
- French: Had The Island Existed It Would Have Been French
It was depicted on many maps and various nautical charts from as early as the late 19th century - it propagated as everyone copied everyone else's maps.
In 1876, the whaling ship, Velocity, reported the fictitious island as it was noted on some late 19th century maps. It is possible that they saw pumice sea rafts (large amounts of floating pumice ejected from an underwater volcano). It has also been found on an 1881 German map and an 1895 British Admiralty chart.
In 1974, due to the lack of appearance of the island - or even shallow depths indicating a shallow reef, the French Hydrographic Service removed the isle in 1974 from other official French hydrographic charts. So perhaps one can see the Australian undiscovery was more of a re-undiscovery.
- French Removal: It Was Removed From French Hydrographic Charts In 1974
Before the undiscovery there were some other calls that it may have been a phantom island. In April 2000 amateur radio enthusiasts on a DX-pedition expressed doubt about the island.
The Aussie Undiscovery
Undiscovery: In 2012 When An Australian Research Ship Undiscovered It
Sandy Island went on to be one of the greatest undiscoveries of the twenty-first century. In 2012 the R/V Southern Surveyor - an Australian research ship - embarked on a quest to find this mysterious island on the maps only to find an open ocean and thus undiscover it.
The Aussie scientists noticed several discrepancies that proved puzzling. For instance, the island appeared on Google Earth but there were no images of it. And while it was on a number of normally reliable world coastline databases, it was not on their sea chart - the ship's navigation charts didn't show it.
One of the Australian crew, Dr. Steven Micklethwaite, on the mission recalled to the Sydney Morning Herald:
"We went upstairs to the bridge and found that the navigation charts the ship uses didn't have it. And so at that point we thought: Well, who do we trust? Do we trust Google Earth or do we trust the navigation charts? "
Noting that the discrepancy wasn't so far out of their intended path (they were on a mission to study plate tectonics), they thought why not sail to see for themselves.
What they found wasn't even just a shallow sea. Where the middle of the island was meant to be, the ocean floor was some 1300 meters or 4260 feet below the surface. He noted that they all shared a giggle at Google.
- Ocean Depth: 1300 Meters or 4260 Feet Over The Island
In the media storm after the undiscovery, Sandy Island was quickly removed from maps all around the world - including Google Maps and National Geographic.
Google Maps: Displayed Until 26 November 2012 And Then Removed
National Geographic: Officially Struck It From Their Maps On 29 November 2012
It's incredible how that while current world maps use a collection of highly accurate satellite maps, there is still some data (or was in 2012) collected from Admiralty charts.
Some scientists were even skeptical that such an error could exist. After all, seeing a blurred image on Google's satellite view is very different from the mythical lost City of Atlantis.
It was present on some terrain data sets including that of the bathymetric data from the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans, which reported an elevation of 1 meter (3 feet) over the location of Sandy Island.
"Sandy Island has been shown in various positions on a variety of maps from many countries since the 18th century and its location reported by passing ships... At some point in time the position of the island shown on a particular chart was digitized and became part of a digital data base known as the World Vector Shoreline (WVS)."
Read the full explanation on their website of how they made the mistake.