Coral Reefs

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"If I am wrong, the sooner I am knocked on the head and annihilated so much the better. It still seems to me a marvellous thing that there should not have been much, and long-continued, subsidence in the beds of the great oceans. I wish some doubly rich millionaire would take it into his head to have borings made in some of the Pacific and Indian atolls, and bring home cores for slicing from a depth of 500 or 600 feet."

It is noteworthy that the objections to Darwin's theory have for the most part proceeded from zoologists, while those who have fully appreciated the geological aspect of the question, have been the staunchest supporters of the theory of subsidence. The desirability of such boring operations in atolls has been insisted upon by several geologists, and it may be hoped that before many years have passed away, Darwin's hopes may be realised, either with or without the intervention of the "doubly rich millionaire."

Three years after the death of Darwin, the veteran Professor Dana re-entered the lists and contributed a powerful defence of the theory of subsidence in the form of a reply to an essay written by the ablest exponent of the anti-Darwinian views on this subject, Dr. A. Geikie. While pointing out that the Darwinian position had been to a great extent misunderstood by its opponents, he showed that the rival theory presented even greater difficulties than those which it professed to remove.

During the last five years, the whole question of the origin of coral-reefs and islands has been re-opened, and a controversy has arisen, into which, unfortunately, acrimonious elements have been very unnecessarily introduced. Those who desire it, will find clear and impartial statements of the varied and often mutually destructive views put forward by different authors, in three works which have made their appearance within the last year,--"The Bermuda Islands," by Professor Angelo Heilprin; "Corals and Coral-Islands," new edition by Professor J.D. Dana; and the third edition of Darwin's "Coral-Reefs," with Notes and Appendix by Professor T.G. Bonney.

Most readers will, I think, rise from the perusal of these works with the conviction that, while on certain points of detail it is clear that, through the want of knowledge concerning the action of marine organisms in the open ocean, Darwin was betrayed into some grave errors, yet the main foundations of his argument have not been seriously impaired by the new facts observed in the deep-sea researches, or by the severe criticism to which his theory has been subjected during the last ten years. On the other hand, I think it will appear that much misapprehension has been exhibited by some of Darwin's critics, as to what his views and arguments really were; so that the reprint and wide circulation of the book in its original form is greatly to be desired, and cannot but be attended with advantage to all those who will have the fairness to acquaint themselves with Darwin's views at first hand, before attempting to reply to them.




The object of this volume is to describe from my own observation and the works of others, the principal kinds of coral-reefs, more especially those occurring in the open ocean, and to explain the origin of their peculiar forms. I do not here treat of the polypifers, which construct these vast works, except so far as relates to their distribution, and to the conditions favourable to their vigorous growth. Without any distinct intention to classify coral-reefs, most voyagers have spoken of them under the following heads: "lagoon-islands," or "atolls," "barrier" or "encircling reefs," and "fringing" or "shore-reefs." The lagoon-islands have received much the most attention; and it is not surprising, for every one must be struck with astonishment, when he first beholds one of these vast rings of coral-rock, often many leagues in diameter, here and there surmounted by a low verdant island with dazzling white shores, bathed on the outside by the foaming breakers of the ocean, and on the inside surrounding a calm expanse of water, which from reflection, is of a bright but pale green colour.

Coral Reefs Page 07

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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