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Last updated on April 21, 2014 at 1:20 EDT

Mexico’s Controversial Loss Of Island Of Bermeja

June 24, 2009

A recent study found that the island of Bermeja, which several ancient maps of the Gulf of Mexico from the 17th and 18th centuries depicted as a mere speck of wasteland, does not actually exist.

According to the ancient maps, Bermeja was located off the north coast of the Mexican state of Yucatán, but it is not present on even the oldest satellite pictures of the area dating back to the late 1970s and early 1980s.

It may seem petty to mourn the loss of a 31-square-mile island that does not even exist, but a study by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) shows that it has broad implications for the world.

It means that Mexico’s sovereignty in the Gulf does not extend as far as was once believed, which in turn limits its access to energy resources.

The multi-disciplinary investigation found that “the so-called Isla Bermeja does not exist, nor can any inference be made to establish its location at the coordinates” shown in ancient maps of the western Gulf of Mexico, UNAM said in a press release.

The chamber of deputies of the Mexican congress had asked for the study to be conducted in order to mark the boundary of the 200 nautical miles allocated by law for economic activities.

Rumors about the island arose in late 2008, fueled by the fact that if such an island existed, it would be important for determining the boundaries for exploitation rights of oil. So, Mexico and the United States entered into a “Doughnut Hole” treaty in June of 2000 to protect oil deposits in the gulf that are outside their 200 nautical mile limits. But the authorized period of delay on oil exploration and exploitation in the treaty area expires next year.

Without Isla Bermeja, the Mexican point of reference farthest out in the Gulf is the Alacranes islands, which would reduce Mexican sovereignty over that seaside area, leaving it with less access to the oil deposits.

The university said that the UNAM report included “a historical and cartographic analysis; a cruise in a university vessel and an aerial survey, carried out between March 21 and 27 of last March, in which seven university entities participated.”

The scientists took ultrasound measurements “to a depth of 472 meters and the area analyzed by the ship was 223 square kilometers” in addition to the aerial survey.

The question of the island’s existence has become an issue of great controversy in Mexico due to conspiracy theories that include shifts in the geography of the ocean floor, rising sea levels and even that the CIA has removed the island by blowing it up in order to expand the economic zone allotted to the United States.

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