Coral Reefs

Page 55

It is very remarkable that Mr. Lyell ("Principles of Geology," sixth edition, volume iii., page 386.), even in the first edition of his "Principles of Geology," inferred that the amount of subsidence in the Pacific must have exceeded that of elevation, from the area of land being very small relatively to the agents there tending to form it, namely, the growth of coral and volcanic action. But it will be asked, are there any direct proofs of a subsiding movement in those areas, in which subsidence will explain a phenomenon otherwise inexplicable? This, however, can hardly be expected, for it must ever be most difficult, excepting in countries long civilised, to detect a movement, the tendency of which is to conceal the part affected. In barbarous and semi-civilised nations how long might not a slow movement, even of elevation such as that now affecting Scandinavia, have escaped attention!

Mr. Williams (Williams's "Narrative of Missionary Enterprise," page 31.) insists strongly that the traditions of the natives, which he has taken much pains in collecting, do not indicate the appearance of any new islands: but on the theory of a gradual subsidence, all that would be apparent would be, the water sometimes encroaching slowly on the land, and the land again recovering by the accumulation of detritus its former extent, and perhaps sometimes the conversion of an atoll with coral islets on it, into a bare or into a sunken annular reef. Such changes would naturally take place at the periods when the sea rose above its usual limits, during a gale of more than ordinary strength; and the effects of the two causes would be hardly distinguishable. In Kotzebue's "Voyage" there are accounts of islands, both in the Caroline and Marshall Archipelagoes, which have been partly washed away during hurricanes; and Kadu, the native who was on board one of the Russian vessels, said "he saw the sea at Radack rise to the feet of the cocoa-nut trees; but it was conjured in time." (Kotzebue's "First Voyage," volume iii., page 168.) A storm lately entirely swept away two of the Caroline islands, and converted them into shoals; it partly, also, destroyed two other islands. (M. Desmoulins in "Comptes Rendus," 1840, page 837.) According to a tradition which was communicated to Captain Fitzroy, it is believed in the Low Archipelago, that the arrival of the first ship caused a great inundation, which destroyed many lives. Mr. Stutchbury relates, that in 1825, the western side of Chain Atoll, in the same group, was completely devastated by a hurricane, and not less than 300 lives lost: "in this instance it was evident, even to the natives, that the hurricane alone was not sufficient to account for the violent agitation of the ocean." ("West of England Journal", No. I., page 35.) That considerable changes have taken place recently in some of the atolls in the Low Archipelago, appears certain from the case already given of Matilda Island: with respect to Whitsunday and Gloucester Islands in this same group, we must either attribute great inaccuracy to their discoverer, the famous circumnavigator Wallis, or believe that they have undergone a considerable change in the period of fifty-nine years, between his voyage and that of Captain Beechey's. Whitsunday Island is described by Wallis as "about four miles long, and three wide," now it is only one mile and a half long. The appearance of Gloucester Island, in Captain Beechey's words (Beechey's "Voyage to the Pacific," chapter vii., and Wallis's "Voyage in the 'Dolphin'," chapter iv.), has been accurately described by its discoverer, but its present form and extent differ materially." Blenheim reef, in the Chagos group, consists of a water-washed annular reef, thirteen miles in circumference, surrounding a lagoon ten fathoms deep: on its surface there were a few worn patches of conglomerate coral-rock, of about the size of hovels; and these Captain Moresby considered as being, without doubt, the last remnants of islets; so that here an atoll has been converted into an atoll-formed reef.

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