Australian geologists prove that a South Pacific island does not exist

A South Pacific island that's been on scientific charts for at least a decade — including Google Earth and Google Maps — has just been undiscovered. Eager to check out "Sandy Island" for the first time, a group of Australian scientists recently ventured to the spot where it was supposed to be, and were instead greeted by a vast expanse of the Coral Sea and over 1,400 meters (4,260 feet) of ocean depth.

According to various maps, including some dating back to 2000, the island was a sizeable strip of land situated somewhere between Australia and New Caledonia — what would technically be French territory (for what it's worth).

Australian geologists prove that a South Pacific island does not exist

"We became suspicious when the navigation charts used by the ship showed a depth of 1,400 metres in an area where our scientific maps and Google Earth showed the existence of a large island," said geologist Maria Seton when speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald after her team's 25-day voyage. "Even onboard the ship, the weather maps the captain had showed an island in this location."

Seton has no idea how the supposed island made its way onto so many maps, but is planning to follow up and find out.

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Australian geologists prove that a South Pacific island does not exist

Steven Micklethwaite from the University of Western Australia said, "We all had a good giggle at Google as we sailed through the island, then we started compiling information about the seafloor, which we will send to the relevant authorities so that we can change the world map."

Mike Prince, the director of charting services for the Australian Hydrographic Service, a department within the Navy that produces the country's official nautical charts, said the world coastline database incorporated individual reports that were sometimes old or contained errors.

"We take anything off that database with a pinch of salt," he said.

While some map makers intentionally include phantom streets to deter copyright infringements, that was not standard practice with nautical charts, said Mr Prince.

"[That would] reduce confidence in what is actually correct," he said.

According to a product manager at Google Maps for Australia and New Zealand, Google Earth consults a variety of authoritative public and commercial data sources when compiling its maps. But that said, he encouraged users to alert Google to incorrect entires using the 'Report a Problem' tool, found at the bottom right corner of the map.

Noted.

Images via Google.