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Phantom island

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Title: Phantom island  
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Phantom island

The Zeno map of 1558 showing Frisland – a phantom island in the North Atlantic

A phantom island is a purported island that appeared on maps for a period of time (sometimes centuries) during recorded history, but was later removed after it was proven not to exist.


  • Possible origins 1
  • List of phantom islands 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5

Possible origins

Phantom islands usually stem from the reports of early sailors exploring new realms. Some may have been purely mythical, such as the Isle of Demons. Others arose through the mislocation of actual islands, or other errors in geography. For instance, Pepys Island was actually a misidentification of the Falkland Islands. The Baja California peninsula appears on some early maps as an island but was later discovered to be attached to the mainland of North America; likewise Banks Peninsula off the South Island of New Zealand which was originally called "Banks Island" by Captain James Cook. Thule was perhaps actually discovered in the 4th century BC by the Greek explorer Pytheas but was lost, and then later reidentified by ancient explorers and geographers as Shetland, Iceland, Scandinavia, or even as nonexistent.

Other phantom islands are probably due to navigational errors, occasional breakers, misidentification of icebergs, fog banks, or to optical illusions; New South Greenland, observed in the Weddell Sea in 1823 but never again seen, may have been the result of a superior mirage. Even fabrication have been suggested.[1][2]

Some "errors" were later thought to be intentional. Lake Superior's Isles Phelipeaux and Pontchartrain, which appeared on explorers' maps for many years, were named for Louis Phélypeaux, marquis de La Vrilliere, comte de Pontchartrain, perhaps to curry his favor. Phélypeaux was a government minister influential in allocating funds for additional voyages of exploration.

While many phantom islands appear never to have existed, a few (such as, perhaps, Thompson Island or Bermeja) may have been actual islands subsequently destroyed by volcanic explosions, earthquakes or submarine landslides, or low-lying lands such as sand banks that are no longer above water. Pactolus Bank, visited by Sir Francis Drake, may fit into this category.

List of phantom islands

Name 'discovery'
Antillia 714/1400s The island, like the more popular Atlantis, is a fictional island in the Atlantic, originating from an Iberian legend.
Aurora Islands 1762 Discovered by Spanish merchant ship Aurora, currently thought to be just Shag Rocks.
Bacalao 1472 Gaspar Frutuoso noted its discovery by João Vaz Corte-Real in 1472 in Saudades da Terra
Bermeja 1539 Discovered in the early 1500s by Spain, but mysteriously vanished sometime during the 17th century. While no dominant theory holds, it's possible that the island submerged due to tectonic movements, supported by the existence seamount at .
Brasil historic A mythical island cloaked in mist according to Irish myths.
Saint Brendan's Island 512 Claimed to have been first visited in 512 by the monk St. Brendan and 14 others, along with later reports up to 1772. The island is currently regarded as a turn-to for obviously made-up stories.
Buss Island 1578 Found in the waters near Greenland, in which Martin Frobisher, the leader of the island-finding expedition, probably made a mistake in dead reckoning and mistook optical effects near Greenland for a new island.
Crockerland 1906 A hoax invented by the famous Antarctic explorer, Robert E. Peary, to gain more financial aid from one of his financial bankers, George Crocker.
Isle of Demons 1508 Probably a relocated version of the island of Satanazes (see island below)
Dougherty Island 1841 Because it is near Antarctica, it's likely the discoverer, Captain Dougherty, and future explorers who confirmed it, saw fog banks and icebergs conveniently situated in the right place and time.
Emerald Island 1821 Probably fog banks and icebergs (see Dougherty Island above) the abyssal plain below it was named Emerald Plain, however, in recognition of the non-existent island.
Ernest Legouve Reef 1902 A reef supposedly found by the captain of the French ship, Ernest Legouvé, which is near the exact location of the fictional Lincoln Island, the main setting for Jules Verne's book The Mysterious Island, appearing also in In Search of the Castaways.
Estotiland 1558 An island appearing on the Zeno map at the current location of Labrador.
Filippo Reef 1886 This reef, part of the Line Islands, was first seen by the ship Filippo, and seen again in 1926, where both ships saw breakers in the same area, suggesting a depth of 0.6 to 0.9 meters (2 to 3 feet.) Current observations show the reported location to have a depth of 3.3 miles, and the nearest shallow seamount is about 2.9 miles deep, disproving the existence of the island.
Frisland 1558 Another island on the Zeno map, possibly a renamed Iceland.
Ganges Island 1900s A nonexistent island off the coast of Japan to the southwest of the Shatsky Rise
Groclant 1569 An island to the west of Greenland, perhaps a misreading of the island's name, or Baffin Island.
Island of California 1510 A misconception about the Baja California peninsula being an island due to an assumption that the Gulf of California was instead a Strait separating California from the rest of the Americas.
Los Jardines 1528 A pair of phantom islands to the east of the Marshall Islands.
Jacquet Island middle ages An island just to the east of the Flemish Cap, and was believed to exist into the 19th century, during which cartographers discussed it as a possible midway point for the Transatlantic telegraph cable.
Juan de Lisboa 17th century Reported on maps as being southeast of Madagascar.
Jupiter Reef 1878 Non-existent reef in the Line Islands, to the south of the also-non-existent Ernest Legouve Reef (see above).
Kantia 1884 found in 1884 by Johan Otto Polter, who, in four later expeditions through 1909, disproved the island's existence.
Isle of Mam 1367 A crescent-shaped island in the North Atlantic that doesn't appear to exist, however there is a crescent-shaped group of seamounts 120 feet deep near its described location.
María de Lajara or Maria Laxar 17th Century Usually located North-east from Hawaii, but perhaps originally one of the Bonin Islands.
Maria Theresa Reef 1843 Another non-existent reef in the Line Islands, slightly to the south-west-west of the phantom island, Jupiter Reef. It is the main setting for Jules Verne's book, In Search of the Castaways.
St. Matthew Island 1516 An island near the coast of Africa, roughly 1,000 km East-Northeast of Ascension Island, and possibly confused with the same latitude Annobón Island.
New South Greenland 1823 Unknown odd island near Antarctica, which captain Benjamin Morrell of the ship Wasp saw while traveling North from Antarctica. He thought it to be the Antarctic Peninsula (Then called New South Greenland) but his reported location during the voyage, while perfectly copying the expected path for traveling up the peninsula, was over 310 miles (500 kilometers) to the east and 60 miles (100 kilometers) to the north of actual position of the Antarctic Peninsula, suggesting either a huge miscalculation in location, or sightings of icebergs and fog, typical of phantom islands in the Antarctic Circle.
Nimrod Islands 1828 A group of islands between Emerald Island and Dougherty Island, both of which are non-existent. Probably a group of icebergs together.
Pactolus Bank 1885 An oceanic bank 400 feet (120 meters) deep off the west coast of Cape Horn, possibly the remains of Elizabeth Island, but a 1956 search of the area turned up no shallow areas in the reported location.
Pepys Island 1683 In 1683, Ambrose Cowley reported an unknown island where he thought the Falklands were, but his location was 4 degrees to the north of the Falkland Islands. While it's possible that he made a mistake in seeing a non-existent island, it's more likely he saw one of the Falkland Islands and made a 4-degree error in his location.
Isles Phelipeaux and Pontchartrain 1744 A non-existent group of islands in Lake Superior, which was likely invented to get further funding from French financial backers for more voyages.
Rivadeneyra Shoal 1842 A shoal in the Eastern Pacific Ocean
Podesta 1879 An island 1390 km to the west of El Quisco, Chile, that was discovered to be fake in 1935 and promptly removed. Other phantom islands were also found in the vicinity in 1912 and 1858 (see Sarah Ann Island)
Royal Company's Islands before 1840 A fictional island widely believed during the 19th century to be to the south-west of Tasmania. While numerous expeditions in 1840, 1889, 1902, 1909, and 1912, the island wasn't officially removed from nautical charts until 1904.
Royllo 1424 A small island to the west of the mythical Antillia (see Antillia above)
Rupes Nigra 14th century A magnetic, black island at the exact Magnetic north, invented as an explanation for why all compasses point north.
Sandy Island 1774 Another phantom, small island to the west of New Caledonia, which was recorded on many maps until 2012 when a surveying ship passed by and disproved its existence. The current leading explanation is that the island was a raft of buoyant Pumice from a recent, nearby seamount eruption.
Sannikov Land 1809 An island near the De Long Islands, north of Russia, that probably did exist but was destroyed due to coastal erosion.
Sarah Ann Island 1858 A phantom island near Easter Island, similar to Podesta island. See Operational Navigation Chart of the United States Department of Defense
Satanazes 1424 This island was originally noted on maps in 1424, originating from popular legend of devils and demons attacking ships that went into the area, but the island was subsequently removed because it obviously didn't exist. The island, often drawn to the north of the mythical Antillia, was purportedly full of evil demons, but was sometimes called Salvaga to avoid using the profanity- "devil".
Saxemberg Island 1670 An odd island midway between South America and Africa, which numerous captains reported seeing in 1804, 1809, and 1816. While most had conflicting reports, all of them found the island in the same location, however none of them actually made landfall. It's possible the island was volcanic, which later erupted and destroyed itself. It's also possible that they were looking at Tristan de Cunha island.
Schjetman Reef 1868 To the west of the Hawaiian Islands, Schjetman Reef was originally found in 1868, to be an island 1.5 nautical miles long and 0.5 nautical miles wide. Later searches in 1880, 1923, and 1924 couldn't find the island.
Sefton Reef 1808 Approx. 83°W, 37°S (Southwest of Robinson Crusoe Island), noted as "position doubtful" in Operational Navigation Chart of the United States Department of Defense.
Terra Nova Islands 1961 Thought to lie off Oates Coast, East Antarctica.
Thompson Island 1825 An island in the South Atlantic ocean discovered by the ship George Norris, but hasn't been seen since 1893.
Thule 325 BC A mythical island in the far north, which is mentioned many times in Roman and Medieval-period works. Current interpretations guess it to be Norway, Orkney, Shetland, Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland, and even Saaremaa.
Transit Reef 1700s A possible reef in Southern Palau. While this reef probably exists, some maps don't list it as an actual location, and, although the reef doesn't have any land, The native name of the island, Pieraurou, meeans 'Sandy Navigation Point', implying a sandy island or sand bar.
Tuanaki 1842 A vanished group of islets in the Cook Islands, which a sailor allegedly spent 6 days at, but a ship traveling in the waters two years later found no island.
Ilha de Vera Cruz 1500 A supposed 'island' found by Portuguese explorers, which turned out not to be a land, but rather what is currently known as Brazil.
Wachusett Reef 1899 A non-existent reef in the Line Islands, along with Ernest Legouve Reef, Jupiter Reef, and Maria Theresa Reef. This reef, the largest of the three, was thought to be 30–35 feet deep (9–11 meters.) None of these reefs are currently believed to have actually existed.
Yosemite Rock 1903 Approx. 83°W, 32°S (Northwest of Robinson Crusoe Island), noted as "Existence doubtful" in Operational Navigation Chart of the United States Department of Defense.

See also


  1. ^ , p. 47Antarctica, Paul Simpson-Housley, 1992
  2. ^ , p. 435Exploring Polar Frontiers, William James Mills, 2003

Further reading

  • "Thompson Island". Global Volcanism Program, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2008-12-18.
  • Gaddis, Vincent. Invisible Horizons, Chilton Books. New York. 1965.
  • Clark Barnaby Firestone, The Coasts of Illusion: A Study of Travel Tales, Harper Books, 1924.
  • Johnson, Donald S., Phantom Islands of the Atlantic, Walker Publishing, New York, 1996 (Rev. ed.)
  • William Shepard Walsh, A Handy Book of Curious Information, J. B. Lippincott, 1913.
  • Ramsay, Raymond (1972). No Longer on the Map. New York: Viking Press.  
  • Gould, Rupert T. (1928). "The Auroras, and Other Doubtful Islands". Oddities: A Book of Unexplained Facts (Kessinger Publishing). pp. 124–163. 
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