Islands that come and go

The recent report on the curious disappearance of a Mexican island called Bermeja is an intriguing one, which suggests that the notion of a fixed boundary is perhaps not as clear-cut as we think. In considering the presence of literal ephemeral spaces, the loss of the island, marked until the 1940s on official maps, but not visibly glimpsed for the past ten years, is one that has a geo-political relevance, as this news story suggests.

Bermeja Island

What is also of interest is the fact that the existing knowledge of the island is primarily cartographic and its representation on historical maps up to the mid 19th century may be an essential part of any legal argument that develops.

Another example of how historical maps can impact contemporary life and politics was the case of the discovery by a passing US political representative of a historic 17th century map in a country house in England. In this case the map was used as legal evidence in a dispute between the states of Maine and New Hampshire as to the ownership of Seavey’s island in the Piscatacqua river estuary between the two states.  The map showed (via a nice thick coloured outline) that the island has originally belonged to Maine and helped defeat New Hampshire’s territorial claims (legal details here).

While the contemporary worlds of Google, GPS and RFID tags suggest that we all know exactly where everything is and who it belongs to, that ownership is often affected by our past representations of space.


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