Coral Reefs

Page 21

This is the case with the southern side of Peros Banhos (Plate I., Figure 9) in the Chagos group, with Mourileu atoll (Frederick Lutke's "Voyage autour du Monde," volume ii., page 291. See also his account of Namonouito, below, and the chart of Oulleay in the Atlas.) in the Caroline Archipelago, and with the barrier-reef (Plate I., Figure 8) of the Gambier Islands. I allude to the latter reef, although belonging to another class, because Captain Beechey was first led by it to observe the peculiarity in the question. At Peros Banhos the submerged part is nine miles in length, and lies at an average depth of about five fathoms; its surface is nearly level, and consists of hard stone, with a thin covering of loose sand. There is scarcely any living coral on it, even on the outer margin, as I have been particularly assured by Captain Moresby; it is, in fact, a wall of dead coral-rock, having the same width and transverse section with the reef in its ordinary state, of which it is a continuous portion. The living and perfect parts terminate abruptly, and abut on the submerged portions, in the same manner as on the sides of an ordinary passage through the reef. The reef to leeward in other cases is nearly or quite obliterated, and one side of the lagoon is left open; for instance, at Oulleay (Caroline Archipelago), where a crescent-formed reef is fronted by an irregular bank, on which the other half of the annular reef probably once stood. At Namonouito, in the same Archipelago, both these modifications of the reef concur; it consists of a great flat bank, with from twenty to twenty-five fathoms water on it; for a length of more than forty miles on its southern side it is open and without any reef, whilst on the other sides it is bounded by a reef, in parts rising to the surface and perfectly characterised, in parts lying some fathoms submerged. In the Chagos group there are annular reefs, entirely submerged, which have the same structure as the submerged and defined portions just described. The Speaker's Bank offers an excellent example of this structure; its central expanse, which is about twenty-two fathoms deep, is twenty-four miles across; the external rim is of the usual width of annular reefs, and is well-defined; it lies between six and eight fathoms beneath the surface, and at the same depth there are scattered knolls in the lagoon. Captain Moresby believes the rim consists of dead rock, thinly covered with sand, and he is certain this is the case with the external rim of the Great Chagos Bank, which is also essentially a submerged atoll. In both these cases, as in the submerged portion of the reef at Peros Banhos, Captain Moresby feels sure that the quantity of living coral, even on the outer edge overhanging the deep-sea water, is quite insignificant. Lastly, in several parts of the Pacific and Indian Oceans there are banks, lying at greater depths than in the cases just mentioned, of the same form and size with the neighbouring atolls, but with their atoll-like structure wholly obliterated. It appears from the survey of Freycinet, that there are banks of this kind in the Caroline Archipelago, and, as is reported, in the Low Archipelago. When we discuss the origin of the different classes of coral formations, we shall see that the submerged state of the whole of some atoll-formed reefs, and of portions of others, generally but not invariably on the leeward side, and the existence of more deeply submerged banks now possessing little or no signs of their original atoll-like structure, are probably the effects of a uniform cause,--namely, the death of the coral, during the subsidence of the area, in which the atolls or banks are situated.

There is seldom, with the exception of the Maldiva atolls, more than two or three channels, and generally only one leading into the lagoon, of sufficient depth for a ship to enter. in small atolls, there is usually not even one. Where there is deep water, for instance above twenty fathoms, in the middle of the lagoon, the channels through the reef are seldom as deep as the centre,--it may be said that the rim only of the saucer-shaped hollow forming the lagoon is notched.

Coral Reefs Page 22

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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