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The Mystery Of Sandy Island

Sandy Island as recently un-discoveredA team of explorers traveling to a remote island off the coast of Australia has made an unusual discovery. Or perhaps in this case, it is more accurate to say that they made an "un-discovery." It turns out the tiny piece of land known as Sandy Island doesn't actually exist despite the fact that it appears on nearly every map and atlas in the world.

The research ship RV Southern Surveyor was sailing in the South Pacific when the crew noticed an interesting discrepancy between their navigational maps and other atlases that were aboard. Almost every source they checked, including Google Maps, showed a small speck called Sandy Island halfway between Australia and New Caledonia. But the ship's navigational charts showed no such island, so the crew decided that while they were in the neighborhood they would go and investigate. What they discovered was nothing but empty ocean.

The Surveyor actually arrived at the site of Sandy Island in the middle of the night, which left some of the crew, including the captain, a bit concerned that they might run aground on a piece of land just beneath the surface. But their depth sounding equipment showed that the ocean floor was thousands of feet below. This indicated that the island wasn't a victim of recent volcanic activity and probably never existed in the first place.
So now the real question is, why does nearly every map and atlas show a place called Sandy Island? Those sources indicated that Sandy was approximately 60 square miles in size – roughly the same area as Manhattan – which means that it wouldn't have been an insignificant piece of land. But how it managed to get on to all of those maps remains a mystery. One theory is that the island was placed there on purpose by a cartographer who was looking to prevent the copying of his maps. In the past it wasn't unusual for mapmakers to put a deliberate mark on their works so that they could identify copies by the less scrupulous. It is possible that Sandy Island was just such a mark, but over the years it somehow simply became accepted that it existed.

Now it seems Sandy Island will go down as just a footnote in history – a place that never existed, but still managed to stay on most maps for hundreds of years. I wonder how many other places like that are still out there waiting to be un-discovered.

[Photo credit: Google Maps]

Filed under: History, Learning, Oceania, Australia, News

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