Phantom Islands

Unraveling the Mind-Boggling Mystery Behind Phantom Islands


It has become easier to explore and navigate through foreign lands than it was decades ago. Tools such as Google Maps, MapQuest, and Waze have made navigation as quick as a tap of a button. But centuries before, the early settlers had no choice but to rely on word of mouth from their trusted explorers. Naturally, this led to a lot of errors, some of which would continue to go unnoticed until the twenty-first century.

As the adventurers sailed through uncharted seas and recorded all of their sightings, people would not hesitate to believe that the lands they described existed in real life. This led to the birth of what people now call the phantom islands, purported islands that appeared on maps but were later removed after they were proven to be nonexistent.

Phantom Islands: Mirages, Myths, and Grave Mistakes

Phantom islands would continue to appear on maps for decades. A few would disappear naturally from maps due to natural causes like earthquakes, while others ended up being renamed. At times, these places were just figments of the imagination and would somehow end up plastered on a map despite the fact that there was no physical evidence of their existence.

But if you think all these geographical errors were corrected during the time when technology was developed, think again. In 2012, a phantom island called Sandy Island was “undiscovered” by an Australian surveyor ship known as the R/V Southern Surveyor.

Sandy Island was presumably located north of New Caledonia in the South Pacific. The island had been included in maps and data sets from as early as the late nineteenth century. It wasn’t until two centuries into the Southern Surveyor‘s voyage that it was officially declared a phantom island.

Some of these “errors” were later thought to be done on purpose. For instance, Lake Superior’s Isles Phelipeaux and Pontchartrain were named for Louis Phélypeaux, marquis de La Vrilliere, comte de Pontchartrain to honor his name. Phélypeaux was an influential government official known for funding voyages of exploration.

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Plagued Historical Maps

Apparently, it wasn’t just phantom islands that were implanted on maps. Phantom mountain ridges and sea passages were once believed to have existed as well. One of the most famous land masses that never existed was the Mountains of Kong. It was thought to originate from West Africa near the Niger River and continue east to the fictional Mountains of the Moon.

After Louis Gustave Binger‘s 1887–1889 expedition, cartographers stopped including the mountains on maps after the French explorer scanned the region himself. With so many errors and navigation blunders, there is a huge possibility that navigators may come across yet another mistake in the future.

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