The mystery of Sandy Island, which appeared on maps 200 years ago

The mystery of Sandy Island, which appeared on maps 200 years ago

A mysterious piece of land located in the South Pacific Ocean baffled experts when it disappeared from the face of the Earth after appearing on maps for 200 years.

Sandy Island, dubbed the “Illusionary Island”, located between Australia and New Caledonia, disappeared after several explorers failed to find its location over the centuries.

Sandy Island appeared on maps for 200 years before disappearing from the face of the EarthCredit: Google
This nautical chart issued by the UK Hydrographic Office in 1908 is one of the earliest representations of Sandy Island.Image source: RC CARRINGTON, Hydrographic Office

But they began to appear on digital maps, especially Google Maps, forcing researchers to go and find the island themselves.

However, they failed to locate even a piece of land, let alone an island, at the exact location.

How did the island become an idea?

The story of Sandy Island begins on September 15, 1774, when Captain James Cook charted “Sandy Eye.” In the eastern Coral Sea, off the northeastern coast of Australia.

Read more in Secrets of the Ocean

It was published in Cook’s “Sketch of Discoveries Made in the South Pacific” in 1776.

Historically, the island was thought to be 14.9 miles long and 3.1 miles wide, and was difficult to miss due to its sheer size.

A hundred years later – in 1876 – a whaling ship called Velocity also reported on Sandy Island.

This has been noted on many 19th century maps of Britain and Germany.

However, eventually, nautical charts began to alter the charts with the letters ED (meaning “existence doubted”) after several voyages failed to locate the island on which they were charted.

The French Hydrographic Service removed the island from its nautical charts in 1979.

A few decades later, Sandy Island began to appear again on digital maps, which puzzled experts even more.

But the real “undiscovered discovery” came on November 22, 2012, when Australian scientists aboard the R/V Southern Surveyor failed to find Sandy Island.

They even recorded the depth of the ocean at the coordinates as being no less than 4,300 feet, meaning there was no chance of any extensive piece of land beneath the waves.

“We wanted to check this because the navigation charts on board the ship showed a water depth of 4,300 feet in that area – very deep,” Maria Seaton of the University of Sydney told AFP.

“It’s on Google Earth and other maps, so we went to check and there was no island.”

“We’re really confused because it’s so weird.

“We don’t know how it found its way onto the digital map.”

On November 26, 2012, Google Maps removed the island from its service.

But what’s really puzzling is that if you enter the exact coordinates, you’ll see the faint outline of what looks like a long, thin island, but with no landmass in sight.

There is no official explanation for why Sandy Island has been seen so many times over the years, but many experts believe the island may have been the floating remains of a coastal subaerial eruption.

It is likely that what Captain Cook – and later the ship Velocity – saw was remnants from a possible volcanic eruption making a slow journey across the Pacific Ocean.

You can check out Sandy Island for yourself here:

The island is supposed to be located northeast of AustraliaCredit: Wikimedia Maps
Google Earth also outlines the island but does not call it Sandy Island

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