Changing Planet

Sandy Island (Île de Sable or Île de Sables): The Island That Never Was

 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 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
The Geographer
Director of Editorial and Research
National Geographic Maps

Juan José Valdés is The Geographer and National Geographic Maps' Director of Editorial and Research. He guides and assists the Map Policy Committee in setting border representations, disputed territories, and naming conventions for National Geographic. As NG Map's Director of Editorial and Research, he is responsible for ensuring the accuracy and consistency of its maps and map products.
  • David Dawes

    You have to wonder if it’s simply a typographical/transcription error, and there’s an island somewhere nearby that’s NOT on either nautical or digital maps.
    e.g., Instead of it being at 19° 15′ 00″ S 159° 56′ 00″ E, perhaps it’s at 19° 15′ 00″ S 159° 58′ 00″ E.
    I find it curious that it was supposedly exactly on a whole degree intersection (one degree of latitude is 60nm after all). 😉

  • SKOM
  • edwinah itungo

    i realy don’t understand this myster. does that then dis-credit goegraphers of the past years who possibly discover it and included it on the world map. they must have had proof for it to get on the maps…….another survey should realy be made before the island is deleted froem the maps completely.

    • Juan Valdes

      The Australian survey ship found no island situated at 19° 15′ 00″ S 159° 56′ 00″ E. Satellite imagery confirmed this fact – it only shows deep, open water in the area. Such evidence proves that the island is not there. Could it have existed
      when it was first mapped? Perhaps. More than likely its existence can most likely be attributed to human error.

  • 情趣用品

    I have recently been meditating on the similar point myself recently. Delighted to determine another person on the same wavelength! Good article.

    • Juan Valdes

      Glad you enjoyed the blog. I’m sure there are many more “Phantom” islands yet to be discovered.

  • Goustien

    Don’t know if there are any other nonexistent islands still on the map, but National Geographic Atlas of the World, 8th edition (2005), shows some phantom Pacific reefs such as Filippo, Wachusett, and Ernest Legouve.

  • Ralph van der Lugt

    “Laberf or Sandy Island” sic is shown in Arrowsmith’s chart of 1832, in which it is placed N-W of New Caledonia’s coast . This “Laberf” is Lebert Island.

    “At seven in the morning, June 29th, 1792, we saw from N.N.E. to E.N.E. … The islands which D’Entrecasteaux saw here he named Moulin, Reconnaissance, Lebert, and Sandy.
    Sandy Island translated to french ends up with “Ile de Sable”.
    So, its merely a transposition error made probably by Arrowsmith that slingshot the hype.

  • Steve

    But in Google Earth and Google maps with satellite, it IS there. It shows as an underwater feature. One can see it running north and south. Google Earth has it notated and circled. Keep zooming in on it until the yellow circle is gone. The notation is in the center of it and it runs verticle.

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