An island that was present on international maps and Google Earth has been found not to exist by scientists aboard an Australian Marine National Facility research vessel in the Coral Sea off the North-eastern tip of Australia.
The researchers, who were on a voyage to investigate the tectonic evolution of the eastern Coral Sea, noticed a discrepancy in their navigational data. While their maps indicated the presence of a large island, the depth gauge on the scientists' ship was only recording deep water.
"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," says chief scientist Dr Maria Seton from the School of Geosciences at the University of Sydney.
'Sandy Island' is supposedly located between Australia and New Caledonia in the Coral Sea. The scientists were using maps based on CIA World Data Bank and the World Vector Shoreline Database.
Dr 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."
This is not the first time that the existence of Sandy has been disputed. Amateur radio enthusiasts on a DX-pedition in April 2000 noticed that the island was presented on some maps but not on others such as the 1999 Times Atlas of the World, 10th Edition. The mistake has probably persisted this long because the Coral Sea is infrequently visited by ships.
One of the research scientists has since suggested that the island may have been created as part of a human error.
"It's completely possible that it was a human error in digitizing these maps at some stage," geologist Sabin Zahirovic of the University of Sydney told Reuters
"And it's just entered the databases once, and it's stuck around inside the databases, because no scientific vessels have actually been in that region for a very, very long time."