Phantom Islands


While writing my book, The Phantom Island, I did research on historical accounts of mysterious islands.  I ended up using Antilia, Thule, and Mayda as last names for my characters.  Here are some of the real-life stories of phantom islands:


Emerald Island


In 1821, a British ship called the Emerald was searching for seals, about halfway between Australia and Antarctica.  They spotted an island and named it for their ship.  But when the United States Exploring Expedition of 1840 searched for the island, it had vanished.  It was seen again around 1890, but then not found in 1909.  It has not been seen since.

The ships in the background are visible due to fata morgana

The mysterious appearance of Emerald Island is thought to be an example of fata morgana.  Fata morgana (named for the fairy Morgana) is a specific kind of mirage that allows objects over the horizon to be seen as if they are hovering just where the sky meets the sea.

The name Emerald was not completely disposed of, though:  the abyssal plain below the area in which this phantom island was sighted is called Emerald Basin.




The mystery of Thule is still debated today.  Unlike some phantom islands, Thule is thought to actually exist–only it’s not a small island, but a very large land mass.  The question is, which one?  

Thule was first reported in 325 BCE by Pytheas, a Greek navigator.  He visited Britain and then mentioned an island north of there, which he called Thule.  The ocean to the north of Thule was icy, and later writers described the people living there as being painted blue.

Earlier scholars thought Thule might be Iceland or Greenland; today many people think it may have been Norway.




Antilia was an island from legend, and only later was added to maps.  In the early 700’s, Christians fleeing war in the Iberian Peninsula supposedly found an island where they could live in peace.  In 1424, the island started appearing on charts, far out into the Atlantic Ocean.  

As the legend grew, people began to think of Antilia as a utopia, and different nations became interested in finding it–and claiming it.  But it was never found.  One lasting effect of this legend is the idea that the people of Antilia actually came from the West Indes region–which is why Puerto Rico and its neighbors are called the Antilles.




Mayda has gone by many names, including Asmaidas and Mam, and has been seen in many places, from near Ireland to near Bermuda.  Always said to be shaped like a crescent, people theorize that Mayda was an island or reef that sank or eroded away, or that it was simply put on maps to take up space.  With that mysterious of a history, Mayda may be the ultimate example of a phantom island.

Sources:  The Map House, Wikipedia, and Listverse


Photo credits:  1, 2, 3, and 4


Facebook Comments