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  Columnist: Tony Lucas

Emerald - the vanishing island

Posted on Saturday, 15 April, 2006 | 19 comments
Columnist: Tony Lucas

Due south of Macquarie Island in the sub-Antarctic seas there is an island which has become an enigma since its discovery. Emerald Island was discovered in 1821 by Captain Nockells and named after his vessel the Emerald, since its discovery this Island has resulted in a lot of controversy. Does it exist or doesn't it?Numerous searches for the Island have resulted in sightings of it; others that have gone to the same location have proclaimed only empty sea where it should have been.There are those that say Emerald is a haunted Island that moves from place to place, never remaining in one spot.Those who have occasionally seen Emerald Island give conflicting accounts of it, some claim it to be a Mountainous Island with steep and rugged cliff faces, others talk of green fields, and rolling hills, however, no one has ever reported making a landing on the Island; all reports are in most cases from a distance.

In 1890 however, a Port Charmers sea captain once told F.R. Chapman, Botanist, and Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, that he had once seen Emerald Island and tried to make a landing on it. He depicted it as a small island, very rugged and rocky, with no safe place to make an approach.In the 1840's Commodore Wilks, an American, commanding the vessel Vincenne and accompanied by the Porpose passed over the supposed position of Emerald Island, only to be met with open ocean, however the expedition was regarded as inconclusive as conditions were foggy at the time.In 1877 another expedition was initiated to try and find the elusive Island, Captain Soule aboard the Friendship tried exactly the same tactic as Commodore Wilks, once more no island was observed. Emerald Island was deleted from new editions of maritime charts for the region.Twenty-eight years later Captain Scott aboard the Discovery was fascinated by the riddle of Emerald Island and decided to try to find it. As they neared the position of Emerald things appeared hopeful. Soundings taken in the locality displayed a steady rise in the seabed indicating the prospect of a nearby landmass. The weather once more was uncooperative and the investigation had to be abandoned.
Shackleton, the famous explorer, was charged with finding the island, in 1909 his expedition approached Emeralds position, weather conditions this time were very suitable, with good visibility and calm seas. Despite the ideal conditions Shackleton like the others failed to find any evidence of the island. The following year Amundsen's expedition was returning from their polar explorations, they discovered their course would eventually take then right over Emeralds position, for the sake of safety their course was changed just in case, despite passing what should have been just westward of the Island nothing was seen except open sea where the island should have been.1894 saw a Norwegian Polar expedition set course for Emeralds position, on reaching the coordinates land was indeed sighted. An island judged to be about 50 miles long was viewed extending from east to west before them, uninviting and dull grey in colour, the Captain ordered a course change toward it. It looked as if Emerald had once more materialized after being lost for so long. As they approached, the Island however disclosed itself to be nothing more than a massive floating iceberg.

Emerald once again stayed hidden from those trying to find it.Further searches for the island appeared futile.April 1949 brought fresh news of the island as H.M.N.Z.S Pukaki on course for Campbell Island neared the locality of Emerald Island, a dark craggy landmass was witnessed from the vessel, and Pukaki modified its course to conduct an investigation, on reaching the landmass it revealed itself to be nothing more than a dense cloudbank.Emerald had once again deceived another sea captain.Did Emerald ever exist in the first place? Perhaps as there are processes that can cause whole islands to disappear.One of these processes is seismic activity, the zone south of Macquarie Island, even the Island itself, is very tectonically active and large earthquakes have occurred in the past and still continue to do so today.The 1960 Chilean earthquake, magnitude 9.5 caused the submergence of six islands off the coast of Chile.Tectonic activity cannot be disregarded.Another great destroyer of islands is volcanic activity. The eruption of Karakatoa in 1883 caused a nearby island to completely submerge and new ones to be formed.Emerald is not the only island to exhibit a disappearing- reappearing history in the Southern Seas, the Nimrod Islands, east of the Antipodes, Company's Islands, south of Tasmania, Dougherty Island also known as Keates Island, midway between New Zealand and Cape Horn, have all exhibited exactly the same characteristics as Emerald. Searches have been conducted for these Islands also, and like Emerald, they seem to vanish from their stated positions.

Are these Islands merely misidentified fog banks or transient icebergs?In poor weather conditions perhaps they make up a proportion of the accounts of these mysterious vanishing islands, but we are then left with those who have been close enough to view details of the islands. With modern topographical satellite mapping finding these islands should be no problem at all.However, if they do not show on satellite surveys it does not mean that they never did exist.If they did indeed exist what became of them?

Article Copyrightİ Tony Lucas - reproduced with permission.

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