National Geographic’s 1921 Sovereignty and Mandate Boundary Lines of the Islands of the Pacific map
During the week of Thanksgiving, news sites around the world began carrying the story of Sandy Island (Île de Sable or Île de Sables)—a phantom island situated in the Coral Sea, some 1,200 kilometers (648 nautical miles) east of Queensland, Australia. Logged as being located at 19° 15′ 00″ S 159° 56′ 00″ E (-19.25,159.933333), the island, which now appears on some dynamic mapping platforms, has been portrayed on many authoritative nautical charts and maps dating back as far as the early 19th century.
Earlier this month, an Australian scientific expedition aboard the Research Vessel Southern Surveyor sailed past the location where the island should have been and found nothing but open water. Although the dynamic mapping application they were using showed the outline of Sandy Island, the navigational charts they were using did not. Some media outlets have had a field day with this event, surmising everything from a mapmakers’ “digitizing error” to an intentional error on the part of cartographic houses to “deter copyright infringements.”
Sandy Island, the yellow outlined island situated northwest of New Caledonia, as currently portrayed on Google Earth.
Looking further into this matter, the island does appear on National Geographic supplement maps, globes, and atlases published prior to 2000. In that year, one of our readers brought the matter of the island’s “phantom” existence to our attention. After consulting a myriad of nautical charts and talking to experts, we found that there was not enough conclusive evidence to completely strike the island off of our maps. We let scale determine whether the island should be shown, with the proviso that it no longer be named. Full evidence has finally been presented. “Sandy Island” has now been officially stricken from all National Geographic map products. We anxiously await the next “new” discovery.
Juan José Valdés
Director of Editorial and Research
National Geographic Maps