Coral Reefs

Page 60

More facts are wanted regarding the nature both of the interior and exterior step-like ledges: are all the ledges, or only the upper ones, covered with living coral? If they are all covered, are the kinds different on the ledges according to the depth? Do the interior and exterior ledges occur together in the same atolls; if so, what is their total width, and is the intervening surface-reef narrow, etc.?)


I may first observe, that the reefs within the lagoons of atolls and within lagoon-channels, would, if favourably circumstanced, grow upwards during subsidence in the same manner as the annular rim; and, therefore, we might expect that such lagoon-reefs, when not surrounded and buried by an accumulation of sediment more rapid than the rate of subsidence, would rise abruptly from a greater depth than that at which the efficient polypifers can flourish: we see this well exemplified in the small abruptly-sided reefs, with which the deep lagoons of the Chagos and Southern Maldiva atolls are studded. With respect to the ring or basin-formed reefs of the Northern Maldiva atolls, it is evident, from the perfectly continuous series which exists that the marginal rings, although wider than the exterior or bounding reef of ordinary atolls, are only modified portions of such a reef; it is also evident that the central rings, although wider than the knolls or reefs which commonly occur in lagoons, occupy their place. The ring-like structure has been shown to be contingent on the breaches into the lagoon being broad and numerous, so that all the reefs which are bathed by the waters of the lagoon are placed under nearly the same conditions with the outer coast of an atoll standing in the open sea. Hence the exterior and living margins of these reefs must have been favourably circumstanced for growing outwards, and increasing beyond the usual breadth; and they must likewise have been favourably circumstanced for growing vigorously upwards, during the subsiding movements, to which by our theory the whole archipelago has been subjected; and subsidence with this upward growth of the margins would convert the central space of each little reef into a small lagoon. This, however, could only take place with those reefs, which had increased to a breadth sufficient to prevent their central spaces from being almost immediately filled up with the sand and detritus driven inwards from all sides: hence it is that few reefs, which are less than half a mile in diameter, even in the atolls where the basin-like structure is most strikingly exhibited, include lagoons. This remark, I may add, applies to all coral-reefs wherever found. The basin-formed reefs of the Maldiva Archipelago may, in fact, be briefly described, as small atolls formed during subsidence over the separate portions of large and broken atolls, in the same manner as these latter were formed over the barrier-reefs, which encircled the islands of a large archipelago now wholly submerged.


In the second section of the first chapter, I have shown that there are in the neighbourhood of atolls, some deeply submerged banks, with level surfaces; that there are others, less deeply but yet wholly submerged, having all the characters of perfect atolls, but consisting merely of dead coral-rock; that there are barrier-reefs and atolls with merely a portion of their reef, generally on the leeward side, submerged; and that such portions either retain their perfect outline, or they appear to be quite effaced, their former place being marked only by a bank, conforming in outline with that part of the reef which remains perfect. These several cases are, I believe, intimately related together, and can be explained by the same means. There, perhaps, exist some submerged reefs, covered with living coral and growing upwards, but to these I do not here refer.

As we see that in those parts of the ocean, where coral-reefs are most abundant, one island is fringed and another neighbouring one is not fringed; as we see in the same archipelago, that all the reefs are more perfect in one part of it than in another, for instance, in the southern half compared with the northern half of the Maldiva Archipelago, and likewise on the outer coasts compared with the inner coasts of the atolls in this same group, which are placed in a double row; as we know that the existence of the innumerable polypifers forming a reef, depends on their sustenance, and that they are preyed on by other organic beings; and, lastly, as we know that some inorganic causes are highly injurious to the growth of coral, it cannot be expected that during the round of change to which earth, air, and water are exposed, the reef-building polypifers should keep alive for perpetuity in any one place; and still less can this be expected, during the progressive subsidences, perhaps at some periods more rapid than at others, to which by our theory these reefs and islands have been subjected and are liable.

Coral Reefs Page 61

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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