Coral Reefs

Page 36

The external margin of this reef is described, as formed of projecting points, within which there is a space, from six to twelve feet deep, with patches of living coral on it. At Mukdeesha (latitude 2 deg 1' N.) "the port is formed," it is said (Owen's "Africa," volume i., page 357, from which work the foregoing facts are likewise taken.) "by a long reef extending eastward, four or five miles, within which there is a narrow channel, with ten to twelve feet of water at low spring-tides;" it lies at the distance of a quarter of a mile from the shore. Again, in the plan of Mombas (latitude 4 deg S.), a reef extends for thirty-six miles, at the distance of from half a mile to one mile and a quarter from the shore; within it, there is a channel navigable "for canoes and small craft," between six and fifteen feet deep: outside the reef the depth is about thirty fathoms at the distance of nearly half a mile. Part of this reef is very symmetrical, and has a uniform breadth of two hundred yards.

The coast of Brazil is in many parts fringed by reefs. Of these, some are not of coral formation; for instance, those near Bahia and in front of Pernambuco; but a few miles south of this latter city, the reef follows (See Baron Roussin's "Pilote du Bresil," and accompanying hydrographical memoir.) so closely every turn of the shore, that I can hardly doubt it is of coral; it runs at the distance of three-quarters of a mile from the land, and within it the depth is from ten to fifteen feet. I was assured by an intelligent pilot that at Ports Frances and Maceio, the outer part of the reef consists of living coral, and the inner of a white stone, full of large irregular cavities, communicating with the sea. The bottom of the sea off the coast of Brazil shoals gradually to between thirty and forty fathoms, at the distance of between nine and ten leagues from the land.

From the description now given, we must conclude that the dimensions and structure of fringing-reefs depend entirely on the greater or less inclination of the submarine slope, conjoined with the fact that reef-building polypifers can exist only at limited depths. It follows from this, that where the sea is very shallow, as in the Persian Gulf and in parts of the East Indian Archipelago, the reefs lose their fringing character, and appear as separate and irregularly scattered patches, often of considerable area. From the more vigorous growth of the coral on the outside, and from the conditions being less favourable in several respects within, such reefs are generally higher and more perfect in their marginal than in their central parts; hence these reefs sometimes assume (and this circumstance ought not to be overlooked) the appearance of atolls; but they differ from atolls in their central expanse being much less deep, in their form being less defined, and in being based on a shallow foundation. But when in a deep sea reefs fringe banks of sediment, which have accumulated beneath the surface, round either islands or submerged rocks, they are distinguished with difficulty on the one hand from encircling barrier-reefs, and on the other from atolls. In the West Indies there are reefs, which I should probably have arranged under both these classes, had not the existence of large and level banks, lying a little beneath the surface, ready to serve as the basis for the attachment of coral, been occasionally brought into view by the entire or partial absence of reefs on them, and had not the formation of such banks, through the accumulation of sediment now in progress, been sufficiently evident. Fringing-reefs sometimes coat, and thus protect the foundations of islands, which have been worn down by the surf to the level of the sea. According to Ehrenberg, this has been extensively the case with the islands in the Red Sea, which formerly ranged parallel to the shores of the mainland, with deep water within them: hence the reefs now coating their bases are situated relatively to the land like barrier-reefs, although not belonging to that class; but there are, as I believe, in the Red Sea some true barrier-reefs.

Coral Reefs Page 37

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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