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Saturday, December 16, 2023

Decemystery (2022.3) 16: Emerald Island


Picturesque, calm, and surrounded by water, islands are depicted as the ideal retirement spot in a lot of media. Personally, as much as I love the sea, I wouldn’t want to live somewhere where a bad storm could have me become food for a shark, but that’s just me.

There are an estimated 900,000 islands on Earth, and, as it stands, the odds of there being an undiscovered one are slim. There could be a few submerged, however, and that is the perfect lead-in to today’s story. I know, sudden, but I don’t feel like rambling about remote landmasses for five paragraphs.

It’s been a long time since I’ve covered a phantom island; the last one I covered was all the way back in 2020 when I went over the Terra Nova Islands. I’ve wanted to talk about another one of these enigmas for a couple of years now, but for one reason or another, I nixed it from my schedule. Today, however, we’ll be taking a trip down to Antarctica once more to talk about these—and it’s one with a pretty name: Emerald Island. Let the expedition begin!

The Phantom Story

Yeah, I couldn’t think of anything creative this time. Sorry!

I thought about doing a little section dedicated to explaining what a “phantom island” is, but I decided against it; it’s not hard to explain. It’s an island that was charted but nowadays doesn’t exist. There are a multitude of explanations as to why this is, and as a result, I could merge almost all phantom islands into one write-up. The reason I don’t, though, is I think each one has a story that’s worth telling on its own. It’s just that some of them are considerably more detailed than others and, in the case of Bermeja, enter the realm of conspiracy.

Described as being small but mountainous, Emerald Island got its name when William Elliot was sailing aboard the British sealing ship Emerald back in 1821. Said to be located south of Macquarie Island, between Australia and Antarctica, Emerald Island was named after the vessel William captained. This would mark one of only two sightings of the island, whose name is strikingly similar to the nickname of Ireland (The Emerald Isle).

19 years after being first seen, in 1840, the United States Exploring Expedition went out looking for the island. Despite their best efforts and whatever state-of-the-art technology they sported in that era, nothing was ever found. I’m sure if I looked hard enough, though, the crew of that expedition likely saw a cryptid or two.

Half a century later, in 1890, a captain (whose name I sadly cannot find) visiting Port Chalmers reported spotting the island some years prior. This was the last time the island was ever said to have been spotted before becoming a certified Jimmy Hoffa classic. May Davy Jones grant this beautifully named island a pleasant place in his locker.

In 1909, the Nimrod went searching for Emerald Island, but to no avail. Also, on this journey, the Nimrod sought to find three other phantom islands: the Royal Company’s Islands, Dougherty Island, and the Nimrod Islands. These four islands were all supposedly located in the 19th century, and you can see all four charted in the header image. I’ll likely cover the other three islands next year at some point.

As a side note, despite its name, this Nimrod bears no relation to the Nimrod that discovered the aforementioned Nimrod Islands. Confusing? Hopefully not, but I found it obnoxious that a ship that discovered a series of islands—islands that were said to be not too far from the island we’re talking about today—had the same name as a ship that went looking for the island we’re talking about today. My God, that hurt my brain to type.

After that, Emerald Island was never seen again, though it wouldn’t be the last time it was mentioned. According to Wikipedia, a desk calendar book released in 1987 by American Express featured Emerald Island in it. This claim lacks a citation on Wikipedia, and as a result, I don’t know if it’s true or not.

Thus ends the short story of Emerald Island. Nowadays, the island is believed to not exist, though its legacy lives on in the form of “Emerald Basin,” an abyssal plain that exists where the island was said to be. Nice little tribute to one of the many mysteries of the world’s oceans. Anyway, let’s dive right into the theories because we have a fair number of ‘em!


1. Fata Morgana

Ah, Fata Morgana. Named after a figure in Arthurian lore, this is a fancier way of saying “mirage.” I know that’s simplifying it to a near-criminal extreme, but I’m a simple man—for better or worse.

This explanation is perhaps the most popular for most phantom islands. It usually involves things related to rays of light which, if I’m to be perfectly honest with you, I don’t comprehend. There’s a Wikipedia article that explains it. As for my puny brain, I just understand it as “tricks of the light.”

If you want it simplified by yours truly, however, the island was observed from a distance, and what those who saw it thought was an island wasn’t. More than likely, what they perceived as an island was likely a glacier.

How could they mistake such a thing for an island? Well, Fata Morgana occurs most often in the polar regions, and due to how light bends at different temperatures (according to that Wikipedia article), it basically warped things at a distance. So, the sailors likely thought there was a mountainous landmass over the horizon when there wasn’t.

2. It was from another dimension; our realities overlapped, so it appeared for a bit

This is an extremely prevalent theory when it comes to phantom islands. In fact, it’s easily the second most common theory I see put forth about phantom islands. That may seem obvious, given it’s the second theory listed, but I don’t order these based on anything. Outside of the final theory (which is always a joke theory), I just randomly order these.

The concept of dimensions and realities overlapping is a pretty complicated one; it’s one that I really don’t understand. I’ve discussed it in the past in some capacity, and while I may have elaborated on it there, COVID brain fog and a year of being out of commission have both caused me to become relatively rusty on the whole thing.

To the best of my understanding, when our reality overlaps with another one, some people and places may sort of “clip in” and appear for a brief period. This is one explanation for the classic story of The Man From Taured. It’s also been used to explain some of the more seemingly unexplainable disappearances.

For this theory, Emerald Island exists in another reality, but not ours. We simply overlapped with whatever reality it exists in for a brief period twice—and perhaps more in the past when no one was around to see it.

3. It sank

As you may or may not know, islands do sink. How they sink depends, but it has happened, does happen, and will happen. In this case, there isn’t a specific reason given as to how it could have sunk. Unless there was a massive wave that gobbled it up, or Aquaman thought it interfered with the ocean’s Feng Shue, it’s unlikely this is the case.

4. Aliens destroyed it

This isn’t a serious theory; I just liked the sound of it. Come on, gimme a break! I got a bunch more of these write-ups to do. Lemme pretend aliens vaporized the alien for laughs!

5. It was made up

This was apparently a thing that sailors would do. They’d make up islands to spice up an atlas or to justify going out on expeditions. I honestly didn’t know this, and I’m curious if they also made them up for clout or funding; it sounds like something a sailor from times of yore would do. Beyond that, there isn’t much else to this theory. They could make up the wildest tales you’d ever hear, but they couldn’t get a theory longer than a single paragraph. Sailor moment, amirite?

6. It was Mirage Island

Every pixel represents one playthrough where that blasted island didn’t appear.

My Take

I think this was a case of Fata Morgana. While the theory that sailors made it up for some innocuous reason seems like something a man of the seas would definitely do, I don’t think there was any realistic reason to do it in this case. Given how the Terra Nova Islands were almost certainly a case of an illusion caused by the cold weather and trick light can pull, I think that was the case here.

Really, that’s all I have to say. I don’t think there’s that much more to it. While that may make the story seem boring to some, I think the simpler mysteries can sometimes be the more satisfying. It gets rather tiresome when a story appears to lack some sort of concrete ending. Sometimes, it’s nice when you can say you closed the book on a mystery.

Though, hey, who knows; maybe Julia sank it.


I wrote this whole write-up in about an hour. That might be a new record for me as far as something that wasn’t a total joke of a story goes. It was also one of the most relaxing write-ups I’ve ever done; probably the most relaxing one I’ve ever done, in fact. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this story, and as always, stay happy, stay healthy, and thank you for reading!


  1. Could the supposed reference to Emerald Island in a book/calendar actually have been a reference to the "Emerald Isle," Ireland, that was mistyped or misremembered?

    1. That's... actually a pretty interesting theory. I'd say it's possible, but I'd love to see the calendar for myself (if it exists) to judge whether or not it is!