November Daily Blog 23: Exploration and discovery, a new twist.

We rightly admire the explorers of old who sailed off the edge of the flat earth to discover what lay beyond.  Long before the giants of the Age of Exploration such as Cortes, Pizarro, Columbus, Magellan, da Gama, Drake, Raleigh, and many others in the 15th to 17th centuries, went the Vikings in their longboats to North America, maybe natives of South America reached Polynesia on balsa rafts and North Africans sailed to the Caribbean in papyrus boats.  Whether motivated by a quest for wealth, power, prestige, trade, empire … or just to see what lay out of sight, they discovered new worlds.  Well, worlds new to them, the lands they found were already home to others.

Their motivation may have been very varied but one thing all these early explorers had in common was the complete absence of maps.  They set off with no idea what was over the horizon, it was a blank sheet and they drew maps as they went.  Some of the early maps are scarcely recognisable now but gradually the accuracy improved.  It was important when a bit of New Empire was discovered and claimed that it should be properly recorded and coloured pink, or whatever other colour was appropriate, in an atlas.

The urge to ‘boldly go’, to discover new places, is arguably deeply embedded in the human psyche.  I make no pretence of being an explorer, even of the modern satellite-aided genre, but I enjoy rambling around mountains and going ‘off-piste’ especially so in the poorly-mapped mountains of the Greek Dodecanese islands.  As with most places on the planet now some-one has invariably been there before but it’s still fun to ‘discover’ remote, seldom visited places.

In a bizarre twist to the history of exploration a group of scientists from the University of Sydney recently ‘undiscovered’ an island.  It’s shown on Google Earth and Google Maps as ‘Sandy Island’ and in the Times Atlas of the world as ‘Sable Island’ as located about 700 miles east of Queensland in Australia in French territorial waters (based on French governorship of New Caledonia).   The scientists thought it a little odd that the island seemed to sit in waters known to be about 1,400 metres deep at that point and when they went to look …. it wasn’t there.1

So, in complete contrast to the early explorers who had no maps but found islands, this island is on maps but doesn’t exist.

I can’t help thinking that it is in fact the island of San Seriffe2, first reported by the Guardian Newspaper on 1 April 1977 and again in later years including 1978, 1980, 1999 and 2006.  Wikipedia sums it up thus: “San Serriffe is an island nation in the Southern Ocean. Owing to a peculiarity of ocean currents and erosion, its exact position varies. A recent report locating it in the Bering Sea was presumably an error. On 1 April 2006 The Guardian reported that San Serriffe was then just off New Zealand’s South Island, but if the rate of movement really is 1.4 km per year as published, San Serriffe should stay in the Indian Ocean for several millennia.”

My guess is that Sandy Island is San Seriffe which has changed shape, the twin island merging into one, and yet again moving around the Southern Ocean.

Speaking in Western Australia one of the members of the team of scientists, Dr Stephen Micklethwaite, who I have met so I know he exists, “claimed that one of the sources of the world coastline database is the CIA”.  Now they wouldn’t make things up, would they?


1  Sandy Island


2  San Seriffe

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