Coral Reefs

Page 47

We may also infer, from the trouble which the inhabitants of the Maldiva atolls take to root out, as they express it, the coral-knolls from their harbours, that their growth can hardly be very slow. (Mr. Stutchbury ("West of England Journal", No. I., page 50.) has described a specimen of Agaricia, "weighing 2 lbs. 9 oz., which surrounds a species of oyster, whose age could not be more than two years, and yet is completely enveloped by this dense coral." I presume that the oyster was living when the specimen was procured; otherwise the fact tells nothing. Mr. Stutchbury also mentions an anchor, which had become entirely encrusted with coral in fifty years; other cases, however, are recorded of anchors which have long remained amidst coral-reefs without having become coated. The anchor of the "Beagle", in 1832, after having been down exactly one month at Rio de Janeiro, was so thickly coated by two species of Tubularia, that large spaces of the iron were entirely concealed; the tufts of this horny zoophyte were between two and three inches in length. It has been attempted to compute, but I believe erroneously, the rate of growth of a reef, from the fact mentioned by Captain Beechey, of the Chama gigas being embedded in coral-rock. But it should be remembered, that some species of this genus invariably live, both whilst young and old, in cavities, which the animal has the power of enlarging with its growth. I saw many of these shells thus embedded in the outer "flat" of Keeling atoll, which is composed of dead rock; and therefore the cavities in this case had no relation whatever with the growth of coral. M. Lesson, also, speaking of this shell (Partie Zoolog. "Voyage de la 'Coquille'"), has remarked, "que constamment ses valves etaient engages completement dans la masse des Madrepores.")

From the facts given in this section, it may be concluded, first, that considerable thicknesses of rock have certainly been formed within the present geological area by the growth of coral and the accumulation of its detritus; and, secondly, that the increase of individual corals and of reefs, both outwards or horizontally and upwards or vertically, under the peculiar conditions favourable to such increase, is not slow, when referred either to the standard of the average oscillations of level in the earth's crust, or to the more precise but less important one of a cycle of years.

SECTION 4.III.--ON THE DEPTHS AT WHICH REEF-BUILDING POLYPIFERS CAN LIVE.

I have already described in detail, which might have appeared trivial, the nature of the bottom of the sea immediately surrounding Keeling atoll; and I will now describe with almost equal care the soundings off the fringing-reefs of Mauritius. I have preferred this arrangement, for the sake of grouping together facts of a similar nature. I sounded with the wide bell-shaped lead which Captain Fitzroy used at Keeling Island, but my examination of the bottom was confined to a few miles of coast (between Port Louis and Tomb Bay) on the leeward side of the island. The edge of the reef is formed of great shapeless masses of branching Madrepores, which chiefly consist of two species,--apparently M. corymbosa and pocillifera,-- mingled with a few other kinds of coral. These masses are separated from each other by the most irregular gullies and cavities, into which the lead sinks many feet. Outside this irregular border of Madrepores, the water deepens gradually to twenty fathoms, which depth generally is found at the distance of from half to three-quarters of a mile from the reef. A little further out the depth is thirty fathoms, and thence the bank slopes rapidly into the depths of the ocean. This inclination is very gentle compared with that outside Keeling and other atolls, but compared with most coasts it is steep. The water was so clear outside the reef, that I could distinguish every object forming the rugged bottom. In this part, and to a depth of eight fathoms, I sounded repeatedly, and at each cast pounded the

Coral Reefs Page 48

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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