Scientist unravels mystery of Coral Sea’s ghostly Sandy Island
A research ship cruised through the Coral Sea, east of Australia, bearing down on Sandy Island. The digital scientific databases used by the researchers showed the island to be 15 miles long, north to south, and about three miles wide. Manhattan-sized.
But when the ship reached the place where the island should have been, the researchers saw only open ocean. The water was nearly a mile deep. Sandy Island simply wasn’t there. Or, it turned out, anywhere.
How could an island supposedly discovered in 1876, and appearing on many maps ever since, vanish? Did it sink beneath the waves like the mythical Atlantis? Or was it always a figment of some mariner’s imagination?
The bizarre and complicated story of ghostly Sandy Island is a cautionary tale about what we know and don’t know in the 21st century — and how, even with satellite technology and modern surveying instruments, the ocean can still spring a surprise.
The island was repeatedly “undiscovered” over ensuing decades, but it remained a shadowy presence in the cartographic world. Some maps labeled it “ED,” for “existence doubtful.” French hydrographic maps deleted Sandy Island once and for all in 1974.
But back to the central mystery of how Sandy Island came into being. Was it merely imagined? Maybe not. It’s possible that what the whaling vessel saw in 1876 was a floating raft of stone — a “pumice raft.”