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Sandy Island goes missing in the South Pacific

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-11-23

A team of scientists doing a geographical survey and tasked with locating a South Pacific island released a report of their findings on Thursday. What they found, or more importantly what they did not find, has left them befuddled.

A small sausage-shaped island, roughly 20 miles long and five miles wide and located in the South Pacific Ocean is posing a big problem for scientists after apparently vanishing off the face of the earth.

Sandy Island, believed to be located in the Coral Sea midway between Australia and the French-governed New Caledonia, might exist on world maps and on Google Maps, but it seems it no longer exists in reality.

A team of Australian scientists, who went in search of the land mass during a recent geographical expedition, reported Thursday that Sandy Island was nowhere to be seen.

Sandy Island , as located on Google Maps

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"We’re really puzzled. It’s quite bizarre," Dr Maria Seton from the University of Sydney told AFP after the team’s 25-day voyage aboard their ship, the Southern Surveyor. "It’s there on Google Earth and other maps but when we went to check it out there was no island."

When the scientists, who were tasked with identifying fragments of the Australian continental crust, arrived in the area where the island was meant to be, the ship’s navigation charts reported water depths of 1,400 metres. A sign Sandy had well and truly vanished.

"How did the island find its way onto the maps? We just don’t know, but we plan to follow up and find out," Dr Seton vowed.

Human error or in the wrong place?

There appear to be a few strong leads for scientists to follow up in their quest to solve the riddle of the missing island, which according to Google Maps should belong to France because it is located inside the territorial waters of New Caledonia.

The Australian Navy’s Hydrographic Service believes human error may be behind the mysterious disappearence of Sandy.

The service, which is responsible for producing official nautical charts, told Australia’s Fairfax media it took the world coastline database "with a pinch of salt", due to the fact that some entries were old or erroneous.

Another theory is that the Australian scientists may simply have been in the wrong place. A quick search through Bing Maps, a rival service to Google Maps run by Microsoft, indicates that Sandy Island is actually located on the other side of Australia, just off the west coast.

To muddy the waters even further, Wikipedia also makes reference to a Sandy Island but places it north of the atoll ‘Oeno’, among the British owned Pitcairn Islands, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Google, for its part, offered an attempt to explain the presence of Sandy on its map system by appearing to suggest the device might be out of date.

"One of the exciting things about maps and geography is that the world is a constantly changing place and keeping on top of these changes is a never-ending endeavour," a spokesman for the internet giant told AFP.

In recent days, geography buffs have been offering up their own theories on the missing island on Internet sites.

On the Above Top Secret site, discussions were robust, with one poster claiming he had confirmed with the French hydrographic office that Sandy was indeed a phantom island and was supposed to have been removed from the charts in 1979.

The author of another post claimed Sandy's presence could be due to the fact that map makers deliberately put mistakes into their maps "so they know when someone steals the map data".

Unfortunately FRANCE 24 was unable to contact any Sandy Island inhabitants - real or imagined - to verify their location.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2012-11-23


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