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For the last 10 years Sandy Island in the Pacific has featured on maps and satellite images, but as it lay in a little-explored region of the ocean off the sea lanes, it had few visitors.

Imagine scientists’ surprise when, on being despatched there on a survey mission, they found nothing at all, not a squeak of dry land, and over 1000 metres of water beneath them as they sailed over the island’s map co-ordinates.

So where has it gone? Was it ever there? Was it an anti-theft device used by Google Earth to catch pirates?

“It’s completely possible that it was a human error in digitising these maps at some stage 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. It’s a very poorly explored part of the world, like much of our oceans unfortunately,” says scientist Sabin Zahirovic.

Another theory is that the island was ocean debris that had managed to collect in a mass before breaking up. The French may be upset, as it was in their waters and would have been theirs, had it existed.


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