Now you see it…now you don’t.

This must be like a big sand bar. They should be looking at the floor to see what’s down there.

Probably a great place to fish!


A research ship carrying University of Sydney researcher Maria Seton cruised through the Coral Sea, off the east coast, bearing down on Sandy Island last October.

The digital scientific databases used by the researchers showed the island to be more than 20 kilometres long, north to south, and about five kilometres wide. Manhattan-sized.

“Google and National Geographic quickly removed Sandy Island from all of their maps.

But when the ship reached the place where the island should have been, the researchers saw only open ocean. Sandy Island simply wasn’t there.

The bizarre and complicated story of ghostly Sandy Island is a cautionary tale about what we know and don’t know in the 21st century.

amaysim - unlimted

Seton’s ”undiscovery” of the island prompted a Fairfax Media story that went viral. This was big news in the world of cartography; experts were puzzled, and some wondered if Sandy Island had been eroded away by the waves, like some ephemeral coral atolls. Google and National Geographic quickly removed Sandy Island from all of their maps.

Ms Seton, meanwhile, dug into the mystery and has now published an obituary of Sandy Island in EOS, the journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Her research showed that the island appeared on the 1908 edition of a British admiralty map, which indicated that Sandy Island had been discovered in 1876 in French territorial waters by the whaling ship Velocity.

The island remained a shadowy presence in the cartographic world. Some maps labelled it ED, for ”existence doubtful”. French hydrographic maps deleted Sandy Island once and for all in 1974.

But the island kept popping up in other places. It was clearly marked on a 1982 US Defence Mapping Agency map, with a cryptic annotation: ”Reported 1876. Reported to be about 4 miles east, 1968.”

Ms Seton’s research pointed her to the US military database, which had converted old, hard-copy charts to a digital format. But there were errors – perhaps decades old – lurking in the new data set.

Modern cartography is far removed from the era when maps went blank around the edges or carried the warning ”Here Be Dragons”. But experts said the craft remains vulnerable to error.

It’s possible that what the whaling vessel saw in 1876 was a floating raft of stone – a ”pumice raft”.

Washington Post

Published in the Sydney Morning Herald
April 17th, 2013.
Posted in Uncategorized.