Coral Reefs

Page 24

FIGURE 6.--MALDIVA ARCHIPELAGO, in the Indian Ocean; from the survey by Captain Moresby and Lieutenant Powell.)

SECTION 1.III.--ATOLLS OF THE MALDIVA ARCHIPELAGO--GREAT CHAGOS BANK.

Maldiva Archipelago.--Ring-formed reefs, marginal and central.--Great depths in the lagoons of the southern atolls.--Reefs in the lagoons all rising to the surface.--Position of islets and breaches in the reefs, with respect to the prevalent winds and action of the waves.--Destruction of islets.--Connection in the position and submarine foundation of distinct atolls.--The apparent disseverment of large atolls.--The Great Chagos Bank.--Its submerged condition and extraordinary structure.

Although occasional references have been made to the Maldiva atolls, and to the banks in the Chagos group, some points of their structure deserve further consideration. My description is derived from an examination of the admirable charts lately published from the survey of Captain Moresby and Lieutenant Powell, and more especially from information which Captain Moresby has communicated to me in the kindest manner.

The Maldiva Archipelago is 470 miles in length, with an average breadth of about 50 miles. The form and dimensions of the atolls, and their singular position in a double line, may be seen, but not well, in the greatly reduced chart (Figure 6) in Plate II. The dimensions of the longest atoll in the group (called by the double name of Milla-dou-Madou and Tilla-dou-Matte) have already been given; it is 88 miles in a medial and slightly curved line, and is less than 20 miles in its broadest part. Suadiva, also, is a noble atoll, being 44 miles across in one direction, and 34 in another, and the great included expanse of water has a depth of between 250 and 300 feet. The smaller atolls in this group differ in no respect from ordinary ones; but the larger ones are remarkable from being breached by numerous deep-water channels leading into the lagoon; for instance, there are 42 channels, through which a ship could enter the lagoon of Suadiva. In the three southern large atolls, the separate portions of reef between these channels have the ordinary structure, and are linear; but in the other atolls, especially the more northern ones, these portions are ring- formed, like miniature atolls. Other ring-formed reefs rise out of the lagoons, in the place of those irregular ones which ordinarily occur there. In the reduction of the chart of Mahlos Mahdoo (Plate II., Figure 4), it was not found easy to define the islets and the little lagoons within each reef, so that the ring-formed structure is very imperfectly shown; in the large published charts of Tilla-dou-Matte, the appearance of these rings, from standing further apart from each other, is very remarkable. The rings on the margin are generally elongated; many of them are three, and some even five miles, in diameter; those within the lagoon are usually smaller, few being more than two miles across, and the greater number rather less than one. The depth of the little lagoon within these small annular reefs is generally from five to seven fathoms, but occasionally more; and in Ari atoll many of the central ones are twelve, and some even more than twelve fathoms deep. These rings rise abruptly from the platform or bank, on which they are placed; their outer margin is invariably bordered by living coral (Captain Moresby informs me that Millepora complanata is one of the commonest kinds on the outer margin, as it is at Keeling atoll.) within which there is a flat surface of coral rock; of this flat, sand and fragments have in many cases accumulated and been converted into islets, clothed with vegetation. I can, in fact, point out no essential difference between these little ring-formed reefs (which, however, are larger, and contain deeper lagoons than many true atolls that stand in the open sea), and the most perfectly characterised atolls, excepting that the ring-formed reefs are based on a shallow foundation, instead of on the floor of the open sea, and that instead of being scattered irregularly, they are grouped closely together on one large platform, with the marginal rings arranged in a rudely formed circle.

Coral Reefs Page 25

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book