back to article Sandy Island does exist - on a 1908 chart

A librarian at Auckland Museum has shed a little bit of light on the possible origins of the “island that isn’t there”. The difficult-to-eradicate Sandy Island, which isn’t in the Coral Sea between Australia and New Caledonia, drew attention last week when an Australian scientific expedition sailed to the chart-marked location …


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  1. P. Lee

    Tis Atlantis!

    (in before Darren Brown)

    1. Tommy Pock

      Oh No It Isn't!

      (in before panto season)

  2. Steve Knox

    Chart Title Explains It

    "Pacific Ocean in Four Sheets"

    [to the wind, presumably]

  3. LaeMing

    The key may be in the name.

    Being a SANDY island, could it be that it comes and goes depending on prevailing tides and weather washing the seabed around?

    1. Reg Blank

      Re: The key may be in the name.

      It was described as 30km long, though.

      However, I agree with you but with the added thought that a severe storm such as a cyclone can often result in dramatic changes to natural features.

      Icon: read the description!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The key may be in the name.

        30km long is big for a transitory sand-bar island, but not unheard of. Fraser Island is a sand-island 200km long, though to get that big it had to be near a coastline to take advantage of a large influx of sand from erosion and a mostly-constant current direction. Changes to land-use along the Aussie east coast has caused considerable loss of sand islands and I beleive even Fraser Island was at some risk of shrinkage (and secret government-sanctioned sand-mining there across the third quarter of last century certainly didn't help!).

        If the missing island managed to stay around for a few decades, it likely would have even had a good head of flora on it, which wouldn't have lasted a big storm, though.

        All speculation, of course.

        1. Michael Xion

          Re: The key may be in the name.

          Also, looking at the map, Sandy Island is almost exactly on a cartographic line (not sure what the lines are - latitude?) that ends up intersecting Great Sandy Island (now known as Fraser Island). Hmmmm.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The key may be in the name.

            It's a coffee stain....

    2. Martin Gregorie

      Re: The key may be in the name.

      "Being a SANDY island, could it be that it comes and goes depending on prevailing tides and weather washing the seabed around?"

      Doesn't sound at all likely since the Australians say the ocean is 1400m deep at X marks the spot.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The key may be in the name.

        Were they using Apple Maps? X may not mark the spot!

        1. GitMeMyShootinIrons

          Re: The key may be in the name.

          If they were using Apple maps, they'd be looking for it in a completely random place. When I tried just now, it came up with Salt Lake City. Well, it is sandy around there.

      2. Dave 32

        Re: The key may be in the name.

        According to Google Earth, the depth of the Pacific Ocean at the point where Sandy Island is located is approximately 1 foot deep! Thus, depending upon the tides, the island/reef/etc. may or may not be above the surface of the water. And, note that tides are highly variable in most places in the world, since they depend upon the position of the Sun and Moon. Thus, at extreme low tide, Sandy Island may exit, but at high tide, it may not be above the surface of the water. In any case, I don't think I'd want to sail a ship with a 30 foot draw across it!

        Does anyone have any idea of what the typical and extreme level of tides are in this area?


        P.S. Ok, all the conspiracy theorists can chime in about global warming and rising ocean levels now.

        P.P.S. Mine's the one with the inflatable raft in the pocket.

    3. hplasm

      Gone, it be!

      Global warming has melted it!

      Or the ACID OCEAN has dissolved it!


      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Gone, it be!

        Atomic testing?

  4. FrankAlphaXII

    Okay, I thought that this "island" DIDNT exist on Navigational Charts?

    Now they're saying it does or did appear on at least one chart.

    Does anyone have access to Japanese Imperial Navy or Royal Navy charts from WWII or US Navy/NOAA charts from then (or even more recently) to see if it was ever on other charts?

    There's also something of note that noone's really mentioned to my knowledge, there are also alot of Atolls which don't quite qualify as true 'islands' (one of which is claimed by the US as an Insular territory, its called Kingman Reef) because they're awash generally, especially when tides are high, but are sometimes albeit rarely visible above the water. So is it possible that this supposed disappearing island could be a case of that?

    1. Reg Blank


      What they are saying is that the island appeared on ONE navigational chart.

      From the article, the island was included in this specific Hydrographic Office chart of the South Pacific sometime between 1876 and 1908 (we only have the 1908 chart), and it was included based on the reports of the ship "Velocity". The master of the "Velocity" reported that an island of ABC description was at XY Lat-Long, and on this basis was included with the disclaimer that some parts of the map wasn't accurate (officially surveyed) but based on hearsay. That is what this article says.

      We also have to look at the source of the report. My Internet research found out that the "Velocity" wasn't a hydrographic survey vessel, or a research vessel, it was a whaling ship that frequented the Coral Sea area. Not to say that the island was invented or or it's location incorrectly placed, or the island confused with another one, as it may be the whaler was completely accurate. I'm just saying it wasn't surveyed by a hydrographic service with accurate scientific equipment.

      The Otago Daily Times (Issue 4615, 30 November 1876, Page 2) reports on the hydrographic information supplied by the officers of "HMS Barracouta" (1851 paddle sloop on the Australian station) on their return from a patrol of the South Pacific/Coral Sea islands. From the newspaper report we can see that in addition to the data gathered by the "Barracouta", the officers gained verbal information from the masters of the "Velocity" and the "Ripple", including information from the "Velocity" regarding "a line of sand islands" running N to S at 159.57 E and 19.7 S to 19.20 S. Note that this is the location of Sandy Island in the 1908 chart!

      It isn't AN island, it is several low-lying islands probably barely above sea level, just as you surmised.

      The inclusion of Sandy Island in the South Pacific charts must have stopped some point after this 1908 revision. Why? The only reasons that I can think of is either:

      A) The standard required to include hydrographic features was raised by the Hydrographic Office and a speculative report by a whaler 30 or more years earlier was no longer sufficient,

      or B) A hydrographic ship surveyed the area at some point after 1908 and the island was not at the reported position, and the island removed from the charts.

      Icon: For the Internet sleuthing through the "Trove" archive of the NLA ( and the "Paperspast" archive of the NLNZ (, not the insulting sentiment.

      1. graeme leggett Silver badge

        Re: Sleuthing... a whaling vessel?

        Tis a whale then, the very Leviathan of the Bible mistaken for an island....

        (Too early for me to accurately quote Moby-Dick, or anything)

        1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

          Re: Sleuthing... a whaling vessel?

          I think that a whaling vessel would correctly identify a whale, and not mistake it for an island.

    2. -tim

      The charts used by the Seabees to plan some of the improvements to the ports and airports in Queensland during WWII were out of a history book about Capt Cook that one of the officers had brought along for light reading.

  5. JaitcH

    China will be down there soon ...

    claiming 'ownership' as it has done over parts of the East China Sea, even the parts in many other countries Economic Zones.

    If there is oil, the US will be down there to keep the peace.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: China will be down there soon ...

      Surely we should claim it.

      All small islands on the other side of the globe must belong to Britain or what's the Royal Navy for?

      Of course if when you get there you find a volcano and a column of palm trees going past a swimming pool you should leave Tracey Island alone.

  6. Mr Templedene


    Considering that Google maps show a considerable elevation of the sea floor around the missing Island, and that the position of the old map matches where this "invisible island" might exist I cant help thing that part two of this story will be "I walked on sandy island"

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: hmm

      Curiously, on the "maps" view of Google earth (web version at, the island comes and goes depending on the level of zoom, but on the satellite photo view there is clearly an object there, although it looks like someone has redacted it it with badly-drawn large black stripes.

  7. Oengus

    Climate Change claims its first victim.

    The news through today from the IPCC is that Sandy Island in the Pacific Ocean is confirmed to be the first low lying island to succumb to the global rise in ocean levels due to the effects of Anthropogenic Climate Change (ACC).

    The island, last recorded to have been seen by the whaling ship "Velocity" in 1876, is said to have been a very low level island at risk of innundation. Recent surveys of the area have confirmed the disappearance. IPCC sources state the their Global climate model successfully predicted that this island would be the first to be swamped by the rising seas although it cannot give an exact date as to when the island would have been submerged.

    The UNFCCC and IPCC did confirm that they are closely monitoring a number of other low level islands but would not divulge the name or location of those islands.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tectonic activity?

    could the appearance and subsequent non-showing of this 'island' be somehow related to the local tectonics? The surrounding area is part of the 'ring of fire' for a reason so maybe the whole thing was formed, and destroyed by natural processes causing sand to rise and subsequently subside? Given the vast scale of Tsunamis, Earthquakes and the like seen around there I'd expect some significant earth shifting to be involved.

    disclaimer IANAG (I am not a Geologist)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Tectonic activity?

      'could the appearance and subsequent non-showing of this 'island' be somehow related to the local tectonics? The surrounding area is part of the 'ring of fire' for a reason so maybe the whole thing was formed, and destroyed by natural processes causing sand to rise and subsequently subside?'

      Although the Coral Sea is adjacent to the Pacific 'Ring of Fire' it is a distinct geological body.

      The sea appears to have been formed by crustal extension and subsidence of Eastern Australia during the fragmentation of an earlier continent (Zealandia). New Caledonia, (which is in the general region of where Sandy Island isn't) is another part of Zealandia and is depressingly geologically inert. Its north and eastern fringes are marked by the San Cristobal and Vanuatu trenches so volcanic and earthquake activity is concentrated in a sharp band along the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

      There is a spreading centre in the middle of the sea but it is now extinct and my bumper map of all the world's geological wobblings shows no atolls or hot spots in that part of the ocean.

      So IMHO, tectonism is out.

  9. Dave Bell

    The problem is the deep water

    Since the expedition that went to look for the island found deep water, around 1400m deep, at the mapped location, a lot of these explanations just won't work.

    It is still possible there is shallow water within a plausible distance for past navigation errors. This is going to need a fairly wide-ranging survey to finally settle. But they'd be looking for something pretty large to support a 30km long feature.

    If it was a navigation error, the size of a chain of small islands could be the result of one island plotted in different locations, so what actually exists might be relatively small.

  10. Mike Flugennock

    Just a silly question: ISS photography?

    Is there a chance that there's any high-resolution photographs of the area from the ISS that might settle this hash once and for all?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Just a silly question: ISS photography?

      The ISS doesn't do photography, the nearest it does is one of the tourists (commercial or national space agency) pointing their cell phone out of the window. There are lots of commercial photo and radar earth resources satelites imaging the planet.

      The issue isn't does it exist now (it doesn't) - it's why was it ever on the charts.

      1. Mike Flugennock

        Re: Just a silly question: ISS photography?

        The ISS doesn't do photography, the nearest it does is one of the tourists (commercial or national space agency) pointing their cell phone out of the window...

        Actually, there is a fair amount of serious Earth-observation photography going on, and they're using some seriously-equipped DSLRs to do it, not just someone aiming a mobile phone out a viewport. Check out the Human Spaceflight Web Gallery, under "ISS Crew Imagery". Also, needless to say, there's a wealth of high-resolution satellite photography available.

        Sending a ship to the coordinates on the map would give you some "ground truth" (so to speak) for sure, but sometimes maps can be wrong -- especially older ones -- and an island that's little more than a sand bar or atoll that's sometimes below the surface depending on sea conditions, tides, etc. may not always be visible from a ship (unless it's one that's large enough to carry sonar, etc.).

    2. bep

      Re: Just a silly question: ISS photography?

      So you think the hash isn't settled by a ship actually sailing across the stretch of ocean in question, but will be settled by some pictures taken from outer space? Your faith in technology is touching (look out for that iceberg!).

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    CIA training island


    1. Thorne

      Ninja island

      Ninja vanish!

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Ninja island

        Shadow clone island jitsu! And we have an archipelago.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Sandy Island = R'lyeh!!

    In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming....

    Beware!! In the search for knowledge, some doors should not be opened!!!!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Sandy Island = R'lyeh!!

      my thoughts exactly

    2. Jedit Silver badge

      Re: Sandy Island = R'lyeh!!

      That is not dead which can eternal lie

      And with strange aeons, even this joke may die.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Fake islands as copy protection

    Mapmakers used to include things that aren't there or are deliberately incorrect as a way to determine if someone copied their maps. This island probably originated on such a map.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fake islands as copy protection

      Might thoughts exactly. A few years ago Nicholas Crane did a series on TV on maps through the ages. One of the programs looked at modern day maps using the London A-Z as its basis. He was using the map to go to a specific address where he'd meet some of the A-Z cartographers .... however when he got to the last turning the A-Z people were there but the (admittedly short dead-end) road he was aiming for wasn't ... the A-Z people explained that this was one of their "deliberate errors" they put in there maps precisely to enable them to spot if someone else produced maps by copying their work rather than mapping themselves.

      1. Unep Eurobats

        Re: Fake islands as copy protection

        This sort of entry is called a mountweazel.

    2. PyLETS

      Re: Fake islands as copy protection

      Another reason why the origins are likely to have been forgotten. This kind of deliberate error, e.g. as was used in published log tables for the same reason, had to be kept a closely guarded secret known to very few involved in the publication, because otherwise someone copying without mapping would more likely be able to discover the deliberate error making it worthless.

      Something constructed as a deliberate trade secret is more likely to become forgotten forever when it dies with those who remembered it, and the original publication goes out of copyright.

      1. Dave 32

        Re: Fake islands as copy protection

        Ah, so this explains why the Intel Pentium chip couldn't do floating point arithmetic correctly! It was intended as a copy protection feature. ;-)


        P.S. Mine's the one with the slide rule in the pocket.

        1. lglethal Silver badge

          Re: Fake islands as copy protection

          I saw a comment in a newspaper discussing this topic and it stated that this sort of copy protection was unlikely as the presence of false data in a sea chart (where peoples lives could be put at risk) would lesson people's trust in the charts and so as a rule it was not done.

          So I would guess no. Also at 30km long, thats more then just a little cul de sac!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            False data in a sea chart

            Why would having a false island that's far from shipping lanes be a problem? Removing an island that was there, now THAT would be a hazard to shipping. Having a false island in a shipping lane wouldn't be a hazard (unless you were in distress and wanted to make landfall there) but wouldn't be done as it would be quickly noticed.

            Perhaps the note about it being basically a big sandbar was the excuse in case anyone went looking for it and it couldn't be found, as such sandbar islands tend to do that from time to time.

  14. PM.

    Jacob moved it ...

    ... or was it Ben ?

    1. Richard 120
      Thumb Up

      Re: Jacob moved it ...

      The first Lost comment on the thread, I was expecting more.

  15. crediblywitless

    I'm suspicious of its fairly flawless north-south orientation; it seems to me that it might be a fold/stain artefact from an earlier chart.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      seems to me that it might be a fold/stain artefact from an earlier chart

      Anyone asked Lieutenant Kije about this?

  16. Parax

    Its size was never in doubt.

    It was always charted as a big island, even on Google maps. Google maps Satellite image has a blacked out area (suspiciously? or because they thought the photo of plain sea and no island was wrong?) although the island and its name has dissapeared from the map tab over the last 3 days.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It is not unusual...

    ...for charts to be wrong in areas that people don't often go.

  18. BaronMarchov

    Pumice Island

    It could be a pumice island. They can easily be this big and they come and go at random.

    See this link:

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Pumice Island

      Dr Doolittle?

    2. Martin Budden Silver badge

      Re: Pumice Island

      In that case it would be called "Pumicy Island".

  19. Ed_UK

    This is not the island you're looking for

    Nothing to see. Move along.

  20. Nameless Faceless Computer User

    The secret is...

    The Island only appears for a few days every hundred years.

    1. BoldMan

      Re: The secret is...

      So have both Ankh-Morpork and Klatch claimed ownership?

  21. M7S

    4 8 15 16 23 42

    So you've LOST an island then?

  22. Stuart Halliday

    Wait 2 years, some Hollywood exec. is already writing a film script to explain it...

  23. Colin Millar

    It's back!!

    This is surely the intermittently appearing island of San Seriffe first spotted in the Indian Ocean in 1977?

    Has it moved again?

  24. Jim Birch

    Ha. There are lots of these things on nautical maps. They usually have a note like "Reported 1937" and everyone knows they don't exist. The captain may have been drunk and may have been looking at the wrong chart. (I have personal experience of similar events. The sea is a strange place.)

    These marine "features" are traditionally retained on paper maps with a dotted outline and the note, just in case, because hitting a non-existent island in the middle of the night kinda sucks even if everyone was pretty sure it wasn't there. With GPS positioning, methodical oceanography surveys, satellite mapping and reduced nautical alcohol consumption most of these tenuous features can be conclusively ruled out and are being ditched as new maps come out.

  25. Steven Roper

    It might have been a cloud formation

    Way back in 1974, when I was a wee lad, my family emigrated from England to Australia aboard the good ship SS Britanis. (In fact, we were among the last of the so-called 10-pound-Poms before the Australian government scrapped the program.)

    One of the things I clearly remember from that voyage was seeing a long, low, line along the horizon that looked exactly like a distant littoral. Since we were in the middle of the South Atlantic at the time, about 3 days out of Cape Town, Dad asked one of the crew what island it might be, way out here. The crewman replied that it wasn't land, but a low-lying cloud bank (actually a squall line), and that such formations had in the past been mistaken for land. It was not uncommon, he explained, for old charts to indicate land, or sometimes just shoals and reefs, to warn unwary captains of this (nonexistent) hazard to shipping. It certainly looked amazingly land-like, as when you're far out to sea a distant hazed-out coastline forms exactly the same long, flat shape.

    So in my experience, more than likely that's exactly what Sandy island was. It would explain why someone thought there was an island there even though the water is over a kilometre deep at that point. It would also explain the apparent size, as cloud banks can easily reach dozens of kilometres in length.

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