Dear map guys …

How on earth (no pun intended) did you manage to invent an entire island?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but you have ridiculously powerful satellites that can take pictures of things from space. They can see the Great Wall of China from hundreds of miles up, they’re that powerful. They can probably even see me waving to them now if they squint hard enough.

So if a satellite can see the earth in that much detail from so far away, how did you not notice this island isn’t actually there? It was named and everything – Sandy Island. So I assume it also had a capital, and a flag, and a GDP, and all the other “official” stuff that comes with being an actual place.

And if it was named, people must have been living on it, too – where did they go? Did they emigrate when times got tough? (On second thought they probably came to Britain – everyone else bloody well does.) It must have had animals too – maybe a species of gibbon previously unknown to the human race, with cancer curing properties? Did they think of that?

A Google spokesman told the BBC (you can see for yourself here) that “the world is a constantly changing place, and keeping on top of these changes is a never-ending endeavour.”

Apart from obviously being a fan of tongue twisters, this guy must not know what a day’s hard graft looks like. According to some very reliable scientific research (a Google search – they are useful for something), the continental plates move at around 1cm per year.

Now, I’m not going to be totally dense here. I’m imagining that small islands (the one in question seems to be around 25 miles long – OK, small in comparison) move faster than that, say 2cm or 3cm per year. That’s still not much. You’d have to be seriously lazy to miss it.

Even if you left it 50 years before going back to check it’s still there, it’s only going to have moved about a metre. I imagine the resulting conversation would go something like, “Shit – that island we thought was here isn’t here!” … “Oh, wait – it’s over there.”

There are only four possible reasons I see for this.

  1. The island is wearing an invisibility cloak.
  2. The people who went looking for it had had a few too many cans of Fosters (yes, they were Australian. Yes, I am stereotyping.)
  3. The island sank, and is now known as ‘Sandy Atlantis’ to the locals, who have developed gills.
  4. The people who “discovered” it in the first place had had a few too many of whatever their national alcoholic beverage is.

I look forward to hearing your own suggestions/excuses.

Much love, not too much admiration



32 thoughts on “Dear map guys …

  1. angelfrouk says:

    I once read a book where aliens came to earth and planted islands in the south Pacific. They used those islands as a base to invade the earth. Maybe that happened for real and the aliens found out we don’t believe in them and left?

  2. That is so odd! I always thought Google Maps to be the holy grail of maps and I use it for everything….But I’m starting to have my suspicions, given that one time my GPS told me to drive forward even though there was a lake ahead!…..Now after reading this article, I’m even more confirmed that my initial suspicions were valid! Congrats on being FP! 🙂

  3. heeheehee
    I’m glad I don’t make maps. I might be tempted to put an island of my own imagination in there, just to see if anybody would notice. Wait… that a reason????

  4. Mapmakers have been known to create places or features that do not exist so that anyone copying the maps without doing the real cartography work could be outed for stealing someone’s work. Anyone with the map in the vicinity of the false place knows better.

  5. It is all about the copyright. In various cities and towns, there are roads that are made up as well. That way, if they find the imaginary island or mysterious Maple Mile on another company’s map, they will know it was copied.

  6. Steven S. Walsky says:

    In Stafford, Virginia the tourist brochures speak of a wonderful walk on Government Island, and once there one finds a welcoming sign proclaiming ‘Government Island.’ But alas, the island seeking tourists soon learn that names are not necessarily accurate. For Government Island is actually the very small tip of a marshy peninsula which ‘sometimes’ becomes accessible only by waist-deep wading when the water rises due to a storm. As one out of town, frustrated husband pointed out to his wife, “Look! SEE, no Wonder I could not find an island on the map!” Thankfully the country has built a nice wooden walkway across the marsh to keep the tourist’s shoes dry…and, of course, their shirts dry during the occasional hurricane -induced high tides. Steve

  7. I think it is the invisibility cloak or the island and islanders are islands to themselves and we can’t see them. Also, if an island sank in the ocean and no one was there would it make a noise??

  8. There are lots of reasons why aerial maps might be inaccurate. I imagine Google have to pay for the data, at a price for the resolution. On top of that, they charter aircraft for all the high resolution maps (satellites are nowhere near as good as the media would have you believe). You’re only going to charter aircraft to photo areas with high population…

    At least nobody’s found Skull Island yet 🙂

  9. Haha this is awesome. This might be too soon and if it is, I deeply apologize to all the victims but…maybe…just maybe Sandy decided to pulverize itself, turn into a hurricane, and pulverize the bloody hell out of New York and other areas.

    Yeah that really is too soon, sorry. I just wanted to be witty dammit because this post was oozing wittiness from its very core!!

  10. The problem with humans today is that they are into instant information and gratification. I long for days past when Columbus sailed to find the Indies and found the Americas instead. Where were these places on his maps? I agree that we place too much faith in Google maps being the ultimate in path finding. Google is run by humans and humans are finite beings who oft err.
    I love your humor and wish you well on finding Sandy Isle. Perhaps you should program your Garmin to find it for you.

  11. You know those movies where the hero finds clues hidden in the open, like a star in the sky that wasn’t there before or a logo spelled with an extra letter and it leads him to the mystical treasure/evil corporation? This is that. I hope he is able to save the world, whoever he is.

  12. Could be one of those “paper towns” aka fictitious entries, where a map-maker makes up a city (in this case an entire island…) to see if anyone steals their map. Copyright stuff. Maybe…

  13. wadingacross says:

    Yeah, as someone who has always liked maps, wanted to be a cartographer and finally shooting for that dream by going back to school for GIS, I did a face palm when I heard and read about the incident. I can only imagine and bet that some cartographer or GIS tech is hoping that it doesn’t come back to them that they were the one who invented an island. This is 2012, not 1492, but it does go to show that errors in mapmaking can still occur, even with all of our modern technological advances.

    • wadingacross says:

      Modern mapmaking often relies heavily on other maps already in use; manipulating data and adding data to create new maps. Much of it is computerized – various software programs, either using others already made or creating new ones for specific purposes. As with so many things electronic and old-fashioned or handmade, garbage in, garbage out, and often a small mistake in the beginning or middle of a process can create a huge flaw in the end. Often times its a genuine mistake. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume and bet that this was an honest mistake that someone made and didn’t even realize it. Many maps are being made by people who’ve never even set foot on or near the area they’re mapping – again, they’re basing their new map on older, existing maps, and/or inserting or manipulating data (coordinates). Presto, instant invisible island.

      And it’s not just google that has problems. Mapquest has had problems in the past and Apple recently just had its whole new mapping system shown to be rubbish to the point that the company said, “use someone else’s mapping program…” Ouch.

      Thankfully no one was harmed or money lost due to this error, but we’ll probably never know if someone got their hand smacked for this pr blunder. Also, thankfully maps are continually being updated and changing, so it’s not like it’s going to cost too much money to fix or replace/update the error.

  14. Google reply, I guess, is a good answer to those lamenting that a new road has been opened somewhere two days ago and it’s not there yet. But an island…

    To a degree, all maps contain errors: they’re called “trap streets”, and are used to detect copyright infringements. But this practice is not common in sea cartography. Sandy Island’s map traces back to imprecise navigation back when the archipelago was discovered.

    Anyway, I suggest you take a look at Openstreetmap. It’s not a perfect map of the world – none is, – but it’s constantly getting better, and it has no trap streets. Also, it’s probably more up-to-date than anything else.

  15. It’s a conspircary theory, it’s probably still there but they’re conducting some weird research and don’t want the rest of the world to find out! lol 😉

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