Coral Reefs

Page 50

King (I am indebted to Mr. Stokes for having kindly communicated this fact to me, together with much other valuable information.): this is the most remarkable fact with which I am acquainted, showing the depth at which a genus of corals often found on reefs, can exist.

We ought, however, to feel less surprise at this fact, as Caryophyllia alone of the lamelliform genera, ranges far beyond the tropics; it is found in Zetland (Fleming's "British Animals," genus Caryophyllia.) in Latitude 60 deg N. in deep water, and I procured a small species from Tierra del Fuego in Latitude 53 deg S. Captain Beechey informs me, that branches of pink and yellow coral were frequently brought up from between twenty and twenty-five fathoms off the Low atolls; and Lieutenant Stokes, writing to me from the N.W. coast of Australia, says that a strongly branched coral was procured there from thirty fathoms; unfortunately it is not known to what genera these corals belong.

(I will record in the form of a note all the facts that I have been able to collect on the depths, both within and without the tropics, at which those corals and corallines can live, which there is no reason to suppose ever materially aid in the construction of a reef.

(In the following list the name of the Zoophyte is followed by the depth in fathoms, the country and degrees S. latitude, and the authority. Where no authority is given, the observation is Darwin's own.)

SERTULARIA, 40, Cape Horn 66.

CELLARIA, 40, Cape Horn 66.

CELLARIA, A minute scarlet encrusting species, found living, 190, Keeling Atoll, 12.

CELLARIA, An allied, small stony sub-generic form, 48, St Cruz Riv. 50.

A coral allied to VINCULARIA, with eight rows of cells, 40, Cape Horn.

TUBULIPORA, near to T. patima, 40, Cape Horn.

TUBULIPORA, near to T. patima, 94, East Chiloe 43.

CELLEPORA, several species, and allied sub-generic forms, 40, Cape Horn.

CELLEPORA, several species, and allied sub-generic forms, 40 and 57, Chonos Archipelago 45.

CELLEPORA, several species, and allied sub-generic forms, 48, St Cruz 50.

ESCHARA, 30, Tierra del Fuego 53.

ESCHARA, 48, St Cruz R. 50.

RETEPORA, 40, Cape Horn.

RETEPORA, 100, Cape of Good Hope 34, Quoy and Gaimard, "Ann. Scien. Nat." tome vi., page 284.

MILLEPORA, a strong coral with cylindrical branches, of a pink colour, about two inches high, resembling in the form of its orifices M. aspera of Lamarck, 94 and 30, E. Chiloe 43, Tierra del Fuego 53.

CORALIUM, 120, Barbary 33 N., Peyssonel in paper read to Royal Society May 1752.

ANTIPATHES, 16, Chonos 45.

GORGONIA (or an allied form), 160, Abrolhos on the coast of Brazil 18, Captain Beechey informed me of this fact in a letter.

Ellis ("Nat. Hist. of Coralline," page 96) states that Ombellularia was procured in latitude 79 deg N. STICKING to a LINE from the depth of 236 fathoms; hence this coral either must have been floating loose, or was entangled in stray line at the bottom. Off Keeling atoll a compound Ascidia (Sigillina) was brought up from 39 fathoms, and a piece of sponge, apparently living, from 70, and a fragment of Nullipora also apparently living from 92 fathoms. At a greater depth than 90 fathoms off this coral island, the bottom was thickly strewed with joints of Halimeda and small fragments of other Nulliporae, but all dead. Captain B. Allen, R.N., informs me that in the survey of the West Indies it was noticed that between the depth of 10 and 200 fathoms, the sounding lead very generally came up coated with the dead joints of a Halimeda, of which he showed me specimens. Off Pernambuco, in Brazil, in about twelve fathoms, the bottom was covered with fragments dead and alive of a dull red Nullipora, and I infer from Roussin's chart, that a bottom of this kind extends over a wide area. On the beach, within the coral-reefs of Mauritius, vast quantities of fragments of Nulliporae were piled up. From these facts it appears, that these simply organized bodies are amongst the most abundant productions of the sea.)

Although the limit of depth, at which each particular kind of coral ceases to exist, is far from being accurately known; yet when we bear in mind the manner in which the clumps of coral gradually became infrequent at about the same depth, and wholly disappeared at a greater depth than twenty fathoms, on the slope round Keeling atoll, on the leeward side of the Mauritius, and at rather less depth, both without and within the atolls of the Maldiva and Chagos Archipelagoes; and when we know that the reefs round these islands do not differ from other coral formations in their form and structure, we may, I think, conclude that in ordinary cases, reef-building polypifers do not flourish at greater depths than between twenty and thirty fathoms.

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Charles Darwin

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