Coral Reefs

Page 20

Journal," October 1841). These masses of Serpulae hold the same position, relatively to the action of the sea, with the Nulliporae on the coral-reefs in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.), in another part, speaks of the rocks on the edge of the reef "as visible for about two feet at low water," and these rocks we may feel quite certain are not formed of true coral (Captain Moresby, in his valuable paper "on the Northern atolls of Maldivas" ("Geographical Journal", volume v.), says that the edges of the reefs there stand above water at low spring-tides.) Whether a smooth convex mound of Nulliporae, like that which appears as if artificially constructed to protect the margin of Keeling Island, is of frequent occurrence round atolls, I know not; but we shall presently meet with it, under precisely the same form, on the outer edge of the "barrier-reefs" which encircle the Society Islands.

There appears to be scarcely a feature in the structure of Keeling reef, which is not of common, if not of universal occurrence, in other atolls. Thus Chamisso describes (Kotzebue's "First Voyage," volume iii., page 144.) a layer of coarse conglomerate, outside the islets round the Marshall atolls which "appears on its upper surface uneven and eaten away." From drawings, with appended remarks, of Diego Garcia in the Chagos group and of several of the Maldiva atolls, shown me by Captain Moresby (see also Moresby on the Northern atolls of the Maldivas, "Geographical Journal", volume v., page 400.), it is evident that their outer coasts are subject to the same round of decay and renovation as those of Keeling atoll. From the description of the atolls in the Low Archipelago, given in Captain Beechey's "Voyage," it is not apparent that any conglomerate coral-rock was there observed.

The lagoon in Keeling atoll is shallow; in the atolls of the Low Archipelago the depth varies from 20 to 38 fathoms, and in the Marshall Group, according to Chamisso, from 30 to 35; in the Caroline atolls it is only a little less. Within the Maldiva atolls there are large spaces with 45 fathoms, and some soundings are laid down of 49 fathoms. The greater part of the bottom in most lagoons, is formed of sediment; large spaces have exactly the same depth, or the depth varies so insensibly, that it is evident that no other means, excepting aqueous deposition, could have leveled the surface so equally. In the Maldiva atolls this is very conspicuous, and likewise in some of the Caroline and Marshall Islands. In the former large spaces consist of sand and SOFT CLAY; and Kotzebue speaks of clay having been found within one of the Marshall atolls. No doubt this clay is calcareous mud, similar to that at Keeling Island, and to that at Bermuda already referred to, as undistinguishable from disintegrated chalk, and which Lieutenant Nelson says is called there pipe-clay. (I may here observe that on the coast of Brazil, where there is much coral, the soundings near the land are described by Admiral Roussin, in the "Pilote du Bresil", as siliceous sand, mingled with much finely comminuted particles of shells and coral. Further in the offing, for a space of 1,300 miles along the coast, from the Abrolhos Islands to Maranham, the bottom in many places is composed of "tuf blanc, mele ou forme de madrepores broyes." This white substance, probably, is analogous to that which occurs within the above-mentioned lagoons; it is sometimes, according to Roussin, firm, and he compares it to mortar.)

Where the waves act with unequal force on the two sides of an atoll, the islets appear to be first formed, and are generally of greater continuity on the more exposed shore. The islets, also, which are placed to leeward, are in most parts of the Pacific liable to be occasionally swept entirely away by gales, equalling hurricanes in violence, which blow in an opposite direction to the ordinary trade-wind. The absence of the islets on the leeward side of atolls, or when present their lesser dimensions compared with those to windward, is a comparatively unimportant fact; but in several instances the reef itself on the leeward side, retaining its usual defined outline, does not rise to the surface by several fathoms.

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Charles Darwin

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