Who doesn’t dream of a deserted tropical island..sandy beaches made of coral sand, with crystal clear water, blue like the sky – you know what I mean. And let’s say it would be somewhere off the coast of Australia, maybe near New Calledonia. That sounds perfect.. it’s a great place, a great place to imagine.

This is perhaps similar to what the crew of the ship probably expected to find - a seashore off the coast of New Calledonia [ Via www.australiangeographic.com.au ]

This is perhaps similar to what the crew of the ship probably expected to find – a seashore off the coast of New Calledonia                     [ Via www.australiangeographic.com.au ]

Well, guess what: you’re not the only one who imagined it, exactly in the place I just mentioned…what a coincidence. Just that the person who imagined it went a step further – not only he/she drew it on the map, but he also put it on a map that got published. Why ? We might never know. Maybe that cartographer cared too much about that imaginary island that he/she thought it’s memory should be preserved.

Why do I say all this? Because at some point in the past months, a team of scientists surveying the area actually actually tried getting to this island, and low and behold: when their ship registered it was travelling above waters 1400 meters deep, the GPS placed their position right on top this beautiful island.

At that point, you can imagine what the capitain of the ship felt like – probably being the first capitain in some time to navigate right through an entire island. The ship, the RV Southern Surveyor, Australia’s Marine National Facility research vessel, was used in a 25-day research trip in the eastern Coral Sea.

Sandy island - as it appears in Google Earth [images Via Google]

Sandy island – as it appears in Google Earth [ Via io9.com ]

“Somehow this error has propagated through to the world coastline database from which a lot of maps are made,” said the voyage’s chief scientist, Dr Maria Seton, a geologist at the University of Sydney. In fact, in the last decade or so, the missing island wasn’t really that anonymous – it had regularly appeared in scientific publications, “even on-board the ship, the weather maps the captain had showed an island in this location,” Dr Seton said.

The scientists were on a geological survey, studying and area that formed about 100 million years ago, when the Tasmanian sea opened, as Australia separated from the huge Gondwana super-continent, that also included Antarctica, India and Africa.

As Dr Seton put it, “this dispersed all the continental fragments in the area, which subsided and [went] below sea level. We went to find those fragments of our country“. The team managed to map more than 14,000 square kilometers of the ocean floor, gathered more than 6800 km of marine geophysical data, collected 197 rock samples, and of course, last but not least, “undiscovered” an imaginary island.

Nabil Naghdy, the product manager of Google Maps for Australia and New Zealand, said Google Earth consulted a variety of authoritative public and commercial data sources in building its maps: “the world is a constantly changing place, and keeping on top of these changes is a never-ending endeavour’’ – that roughly means: there is still hope if you want to explore unknown places – there may be more imaginary places out there.

[Via Sydney Morning Herald]

Like us on Facebook
Enjoyed this story? Join the newsletter and stay relevant in today's rapidly evolving world.
ZME Science newsletter
Blasts off every weekday to more than 35,000 subscribers.


  1. 1
  2. 2

    Amazing that in the 21st century with satellite imagery spanning the entire planet that there remained a phantom island…..Back when maps of the world were drawn by Medieval cartographers they imagined all kinds of “terra incognita.” Who knew in the age of Google that we still are imagining unknown lands.

  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5

    :) Yes, the medieval maps are great. Referring to the satellite imagery – it does not really cover the entire planet.. I don’t know what regions have not been imaged in detail, but the oceans of the world certainly have not been imaged in big detail – at least as far as I know – in the resolution necessary to find such islands. I just wanted to say that satellite imagery – in general – is and will continue to be a great resource to find new, interesting places, not only in the oceans, but also on the continents – for archaeological studies for example. This is true because the gathered data is so huge, that so far, it has been very hard or almost impossible to search for features in satellite imagery – complex algorithms are required that perhaps are not really here yet.

  6. 6

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>