A 60-square-mile South Pacific island called Sandy Island by Google Maps has apparently disappeared from existence, if Google and a number of other nautical maps are to be believed, reports United Press International.
The fairly sizable strip of land was supposed to be located between Australia and New Caledonia, but when a research vessel recently sailed to its location to investigate, nothing was found there. In fact, there wasn't any indication that land had ever existed at the location — the ocean there was more than 4,500 feet deep.
"We saw this mysterious island on all the scientific maps and weather maps but not on this one navigational chart that was on our ship," explained Sabin Zahirovic, doctoral student from the University of Sydney. "We were watching all of our depth-sounding equipment. Luckily for us the sea floor turned out to be very deep there."
The phantom island, which is also called Sable Island on some charts, is reminiscent of another famous fictional island, the one from the television series "Lost." In the series, a group of strangers crash land on a mysterious island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The island is eventually revealed to possess magical qualities, such as the ability to become invisible when outsiders search for it.
Could this disappearing island be a case of fiction masking reality? It's certainly fun to think about.
If Sandy Island did exist, it would sit in French territorial waters. But the French government denies that any of its official maps ever listed the invisible island.
"We're really puzzled. It's quite bizarre," said Dr. Maria Seton, who was also on the ship, to the AFP. "How did it find its way onto the maps? We just don't know, but we plan to follow up and find out."
Google isn't the only online map that was fooled; the island also appears on Yahoo and Bing maps, but it apparently disappears on Bing Maps when you zoom in on it.
A number of theories abound about the mysterious island. For instance, it's possible that it was added to a map at some point to prevent copyright infringements. This sort of tactic is common on street maps, where phantom streets are sometimes added to flag counterfeiters. But the practice is highly unusual for nautical charts, since these maps rely on strict accuracy for their credibility.
Google has stated that "the world is a constantly changing place, and keeping on top of these changes is a never-ending endeavor." There's little doubt that the island will soon disappear from its existence in cyberspace, too.
Related map story on MNN: Lost Egyptian pyramids found ... by Google?