Sandy Island In South Pacific 'Does Not Exist'

Jonathan Samuels, Australia Correspondent
Sandy Island In South Pacific 'Does Not Exist'

It is normally the job of explorers to discover new uncharted territory, but a team of Australian scientists have done the exact opposite.

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.

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 metres (4,620 feet) in that area - very deep," Seton, from the University of Sydney, said 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."

The team on board the ship decided to head to the exact spot of the island's location on their charts but ended up sailing straight through it.

As they sailed over where the island was meant to be, the ship's instruments did not even register that the ocean floor was particularly higher at that point.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald the missing island has regularly appeared in scientific publications since at least 2000.

Dr Steven Micklethwaite from the University of Western Australia was on the scientific voyage.

He told the paper: "We all had a good giggle at Google as we sailed through the island.

"Then we started compiling information about the seafloor, which we will send to the relevant authorities so that we can change the world map."

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.

"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," a Google spokesman said.

"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."

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.

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