Google Maps Island Does Not Exist; ‘Sandy Island’ Just A Phantom

By iSCienceTimes Staff on November 23, 2012 2:06 PM EST

Sandy Island gets un-discovered.
photo: youTube.com (Photo: youTube)

There's a great line in the sci-fi classic "Serenity." Captain Malcolm Reynolds tells an adversary "Advice from an old tracker: If you want to find something, use your eyes."

This is a lesson Google Maps is learning the hard way after an island shown on their site has been proven to not exist by Australian researchers who were hoping to explore it.

Sandy Island was supposed to exist between the eastern Australian coast and French-controlled New Caledonia. But experts from the University of Sydney who went looking for the island found only very deep ocean waters. The nature of their research has gone from "what is this island on the map?" to "why is this island on the map?"

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Maria Seton, a geologist from the University of Sydney, said that Google Maps isn't the only one to get it wrong. The Times Atlas of the World, as well as weather maps used by an Australian maritime research vessel, show Sandy Island in the same spot. Seton said her team was expecting to see land when it went to study the area, not 4,620 feet of deep ocean.

"It's on Google Earth and other maps so we went to check and there was no island. We're really puzzled. It's quite bizarre," Seton told AFP. "How did it find its way onto the maps? We just don't know, but we plan to follow up and find out."

Researchers don't believe that the island existed and then mysteriously disappeared. Rather, the most plausible explanation is that the island never existed, but was included on some mapmaker's chart decades ago as a deliberate mistake that would reveal plagiarists. These mistakes, known as "watermarks" or "trap streets" are how most cartographers protect against copyright infringement. 

Google did not release an official comment on the mistake. However, Google Maps product manager for Australia and New Zealand told the Sydney Morning Herald a variety of authoritative public and commercial sources were used in building maps.

"The world is a constantly changing place, and keeping on top of these changes is a never-ending endeavor," Nabil Naghdy told the newspaper.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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