Google Maps shows ‘underwater island’ in Arabian Sea near Kochi, experts to probe

While an 'island' shows up on Google Maps, no visible structure has been observed in the sea at the spot.
Google Maps showing island like formation in Arabian sea near Kochi
Google Maps showing island like formation in Arabian sea near Kochi
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A bean shaped ‘island’ in the Arabian sea, a little distance away from the west coast of Kerala’s Kochi, seen on Google Maps satellite imagery, has perplexed many. The reason? Though the island-like formation seems to be about half the size of west Kochi or Pashchima Kochi, no ‘visible’ structure that is even remotely close to an island has been observed in the sea. Baffled by this, experts now assume it to be an underwater structure, and officials of Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (KUFOS) are planning to investigate the matter further.

The phenomenon came to the attention of KUFOS officials after an organisation — the Chellanam Karshika Tourism Development Society, wrote a letter to authorities. In a Facebook post earlier this month, the organisation’s president advocate KX Julappan, shared the screenshot of Google Maps showing the formation of the ‘island’ in the Arabian Sea, which seemed to be about seven km west of the Kochi coast. As per the map, he claimed that the formation had a length of eight km and a width of 3.5 km.

Speaking to TNM, Vice Chancellor of KUFOS, K Riji John, stated that the institution is looking into the possibilities to uncover this phenomenon. “Looking at Google Maps, this looks like any other underwater island that we see across the globe. There have been similar observations, and there is a specific shape also for this. But we don’t know what it is made of — whether it is sand or clay and whether it's distributed regularly. We can only find that out through an investigation. Only after that, we can say anything concrete about this,” he says.

Explaining the possibilities of the assumed-to-be underwater formation, K Riji John says that members of the fishing community have raised doubts whether this formation is the result of dredging by the Cochin Port. “We have to check this possibility too. Normally, due to factors like underwater current, littoral drift, processes like accretion (coastal sediment returning  to shore) or erosion of coast, are observed. In Kerala itself, towards the south region, there is the problem of erosion, while in areas like Vypeen (in Ernakulam district), kms-long accretion is observed. We cannot say exactly whether this phenomenon is also due to the same reason,” he added.

The Vice-Chancellor also added that in the coming days, KUFOS will conduct meetings with other experts and check the possibilities of conducting a study. Meanwhile, representatives of the Chellanam Karshika Tourism Development Society have stated that this formation was being observed since the past four years and that it was not seen to be expanding in size.

“There should be studies to find the reasons for this formation, what role this has to play in water currents and coastal erosion and whether this sand dune can be used for artificial shore conservation in Chellanam. The KUFOS technical committee which is working on finding a solution to the coastal erosion of Chellanam should study about this,” the organisation wrote in the letter to KUFOS officials.

The coastal village of Chellanam in Ernakulam district which is located close to the coast near the formation, has been witnessing severe coastal erosion since 2017. As per the direction of the Kerala government, KUFOS is developing a project to find a sustainable solution to Chellanam’s problem.

However, some have pointed out the possibility that this could be a technical glitch in Google Maps. “On zooming into the core, one can see fleets of ships inside this ‘island’. On one of the sides, it looks like edited image blended with the bean shaped 'island' image. It may be a technical error from Google Mpas or may be a 'drop pin' created by somebody else,” said Harilal Madhavan and Vishnu Unnikrishnan, faculties at the IISER.

Watch video: Hundreds of houses flooded in Chellanam amid raging COVID-19 pandemic

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