This week, Sandy Island in the South Pacific – which maps and charts had positioned midway between Australia and New Caledonia – was found not to exist. When scientists went to the area to study water depth, all they found was a lot of wetness and two jellyfish arguing over the suitability of Rafa Benitez as the new Chelsea manager. The puzzled boffins checked Google Earth and, sure enough, there was the island.
Only, it wasn't.
It seems this invisibility issue could just be the result of an initial human error, which was then repeated down the years. Really? Some map maker decides to have a sandwich at his desk, spills some HP sauce on his work, so an island appears in the South Pacific? Are things actually this random? It does make you wonder what else doesn't really exist on the map. Is New Zealand actually a dropped Twiglet? Was the Arctic Circle the result of someone not using a coaster? Are we, in fact, really here?
Australia's Hydrographic Service, which makes its nautical charts, has admitted that, while some map makers deliberately feature fake streets to stop copyright infringements, this didn't often happen with nautical charts as sailors need to be confident that their destination will be there when they arrive. Hold on… fake streets? Suddenly, all those hours spent driving in circles because my Sat-Nav tells me that I have reached Lewisham Tesco – when in actual fact I am teetering on the edge of the Grand Canyon – make perfect sense.